Down an Alley

Last week Darrow Montgomery and Lydia DePillis had a really interesting photo essay and short piece about Washington DC's alleys. It got me thinking about my own experience with these unnamed and relatively unknown roadways. I've been in exactly two alleys in DC - one behind a friend's house near U Street, and another that you have to walk down to get to Well Dressed Burrito.

(from M.V. Jantzen on Flickr)

I think one reason that people don't really know that these spaces exist is because there's very little documentation of them. For example, Google Maps doesn't show alleys among the rest of the streets and avenues in the city. I would never plan to cut through one on my bike because, if I were planning my route on Google, I'd have no idea they are even there.

To help better visualize
the locations of DC's alleys, I downloaded some data from the DC Data Catalog and went ahead and put it into this map. I simply highlighted all of the roadways in red that are labeled as alleys.

You can download a higher resolution version to get a better sense of where everything is. What stands out to me is that alleys are literally all over the city. In fact, there are very few neighborhoods where they aren't prevelent. In today's car-culture, alleys don't have much of a place in society, though they still play an important role in a lot of older cities.


    On May 04, 2011 IMGoph said...

    the parts of brookland that don't have alleys stand out. very interesting.


    Someone learned some GIS. I bet you can separate alleys from streets by selecting for width. that would tell a better story.

    On May 05, 2011 Matt' said...

    What would be even more interesting would be if you showed alleys in the surrounding jurisdictions.

    Montgomery County, for instance, has almost no alleys - even in Chevy Chase, MD, which was built at the same time as Chevy Chase, DC. And Chevy Chase, DC has plenty of alleys.

    On May 05, 2011 Froggie said...

    Clark, no need to separate alleys from streets by choosing width. DDOT maintains a separate designation for alleys within the streets shapefile. DCRA even has a shapefile for 'alley frontage lines'.


    Brilliant work! I highly recommend that you post that map on Wikipedia so that it can gain a wider audience.


    Google Maps shows alleys in some parts of DC, but not others. Sometimes, it'll even give you directions through the alleys, which can be annoying, especially because most DC alleys don't have bike lanes OR burrito places.

    On May 05, 2011 Anonymous said...

    Even with cars alleys play a large role in providing access to off-street parking. I believe that the zoning code requires new houses to have off-street parking that is accessed by alley, not curb cut, unless there is some sort of hardship exception.

    Alleys do require a curb cut of sorts, but far fewer than a driveway for each house.

    On May 05, 2011 Mel said...

    I love alleys! While ours in Pittsburgh don't hide any gems (aside from maybe a random entrance to a gallery or something similar), I like walking through them (in the day time, of course) to look at the buildings from a different perspective.

    Also, Google Maps has taken me through quite a few of them with their walking directions. :)

    On September 29, 2011 Anonymous said...

    You Shoulda been an urban planner