An alley or alleyway is a narrow lane found in urban areas, often for pedestrians only, which usually runs between or behind buildings. In older cities and towns in Europe, alleys are often what is left of a medieval street network, or a right of way or ancient footpath in an urban setting. In older urban development, alleys were built to allow for deliveries such as coal to the rear of houses. Alleys may be paved, or simply dirt tracks. A blind alley has no outlet at one end and is thus a cul-de-sac.
In the United States alleys exist in both older commercial and residential areas, for both service purposes and automobile access. In residential areas, primarily those built before 1950, alleys provide rear access to property where a garage was located, or where waste could be collected by service vehicles. A benefit of this was the location of these activities to the rear, less public side of a dwelling. Such alleys are typically roughly paved, but some may be dirt. By 1950 they had largely disappeared from development plans for new homes.
Chicago, Illinois has about 1,900 miles (3,100 km) of alleyways. In 2007, the Chicago Department of Transportation started converting conventional alleys which were made out of asphalt, into so called Green Alleys. This program, called the Green Alley Program, is supposed to enable easier water runoff, as the alleyways in Chicago are not connected to the sewer system. With this program, the water will be able to seep through semipermeable concrete or asphalt in which a colony of fungi and bacteria will establish itself. The bacteria will help breakup oils before the water is absorbed into the ground. The lighter color of the pavement will also reflect more light, making the area next to the alley cooler.
New York City
New York City's Manhattan is unusual in that it has very few alleys, since the Commissioner's Plan of 1811 did not include rear service alleys when it created Manhattan's grid. The exclusion of alleys has been criticized as a flaw in the plan, since services such as garbage pickup cannot be provided out of sight of the public, although other commentators feel that the lack of alleys is a benefit to the quality of life of the city.
In England there are numerous words used locally to describe alleys that are narrow pavements between or behind buildings.
Jennel, which may be spelt gennel or ginnel, is common in Manchester, Lancashire, Sheffield, Leeds and other parts of Yorkshire. It is also used in Oldham. In some cases, "ginnel" may be used to describe a covered or roofed passage, as distinct from an open alley.
Twitten is a Sussex dialect word, used in both East and West Sussex, for a path or alleyway. It is still in official use in some towns including Lewes, Brighton and Cuckfield.
In Liverpool the term entry, jigger or snicket is more common. "Entry" is also used in some parts of Lancashire, Manchester, though not in South Manchester. This usually refers to a walkway between two adjoining terraced houses, which leads from the street to the rear yard or garden.
Other terms in use are cuttings, 8-foots, 10-foots (in Scunthorpe and Hull), and snicket.
In York, local author Mark W. Jones devised the word snickelway in 1983 as a portmanteau of the words snicket, ginnel and alleyway. Although the word is a neologism, it quickly became part of the local vocabulary, and has even been used in official council documents, for example when giving notice of temporary footpath closures.
In some parts of the United States and Canada, alleys are sometimes known as rear lanes or back lanes because they are at the back of buildings. "Mews" is also used for some alleys or small streets in Manhattan.
In the Netherlands the equivalent term is steeg. Cities such as Amsterdam have many stegen running between the major streets, roughly parallel to each other but not at right angles to the streets. See .
In Belgium the equivalent term is gang (Dutch) or impasse (French). Brussels had over 100 gangen/impasses, built to provide pedestrian access to cheap housing in the middle of blocks of buildings. Since 1858, many have now been demolished as part of slum-clearance programmes, but about 70 still exist.
In India the equivalent term is Gali which were prevalent during Moghul Period (1526 C.E. to 1700 C.E.)