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Information on Seattle Alleys

Does your alley need repair? Sometimes it is difficult to know if maintaining an alley is the City of Seattle’s responsibility, or the responsibility of adjacent property owners. Continue reading to learn more.

Background

SDOT has limited funds to repair and maintain the City’s road network.  The overall need for maintenance and repairs well exceeds our allocated budget.  Because paving needs are so great, we prioritize the repair of streets by their classification

  • Arterial Streets - The first priority for repair are arterial streets.  Arterial streets have the highest traffic volumes and carry transit and freight. These streets keep the City moving.  Streets within the arterial network are generally ranked by pavement condition and prioritized for repair. 

  • Non-Arterial Streets - Next on the prioritization list are non-arterial streets.  While a few streets are selected for major maintenance repairs each year, the City’s primary response for non-arterial streets in need of repair is pothole patching.

  • Paved Alleys - Alleys improved to City standards with asphalt or concrete are considered part of the City's street system and are maintained by the City. Currently, if a paved alley is damaged to the extent that there is a safety or mobility problem, the City will make a spot repair (e.g. a pothole repair.) There is no City funding available to make more extensive repairs. 

  • Unpaved Alleys - Alleys which are not paved to City standards (e.g. dirt and gravel alleys) are not funded for any maintenance, repair, or improvements by the City.  Adjacent property owners can maintain or make improvements to the alleys at their expense.  All work requires a Street Use Permit.

Visit our Street Classifications Web Page to learn what functions our streets can serve and to see maps.

Many parts of Seattle have paved alleys. Why are some alleys paved and mine is not?

Most paved alleys are constructed when adjacent houses or businesses are built.  The City’s land use codes govern the types of public improvements (streets, sidewalks, alleys, storm drains, etc.) that are required when a development is proposed.  The requirements vary based on the underlying land zoning, proposed use of the building, and number of lots proposed for development.  The cost of the public improvements is born by the initial developer.

The Department of Planning and Development administers the City’s land use code and can help you understand it. 


If I want to improve my alley, where do I start?

If you do want to improve your alley, you should start by talking to your neighbors.  They may want to improve the alley as well, and you can share the cost of the improvements.

You should also visit SDOT’s Street Use Counter.  Plan reviewers are available for coaching at the street use counter and can help you determine whether you want to move forward through the design process.  Any improvements will need a Street Use Permit.  If an alley is modified it can change how water drains. As you move through the permitting process, city staff will make sure that any changes made won’t impact surrounding private and public properties.

Unfortunately, many of the City’s unpaved alleys require significant design and engineering to improve.  In addition to just paving the alley, other infrastructure (e.g. drainage and retaining walls) may need to be installed, and there may be significant grading required as well.  All of these things increase the cost of improvements. 

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