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Many American residential streets have parallel narrow roads where people place their garbage cans and sometimes garages. What are these called?

street behind houses

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5 Answers 5

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These are often known as "alleys". This applies in a variety of kinds of areas. In districts of very tall buildings, and in areas composed entirely of single family residential streets, or of 2-3 story row houses, small streets or paths giving access to the backs of dwellings are alleys.

Merriam-Webster gives as sense 3:

a narrow street

especially : a thoroughfare through the middle of a block giving access to the rear of lots or buildings

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  • I tend to think of an alley as running between buildings and an alleyway as running behind them, but that might just be my idiolect.
    – choster
    Sep 29, 2019 at 1:59
  • @choster I have not observed that distinction being made. Sep 29, 2019 at 3:56
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    Granted I’ve never lived in a non-urban area where the type of road depicted in the question really existed, but I would be quite baffled if someone told me to turn down the alley and a scenery like that met me. TechnoCat’s definition holds for me as well – alley has decidedly negative connotations, and what’s in the picture here I would call a (back) lane. Sep 29, 2019 at 11:20
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In northern English cities (more specifically Hull) they are also called "ten-foots" because that is how wide they are.

References:

Wiktionary: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/tenfoot

Urban Dictionary: https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Ten%20Foot

BBC News: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-humber-41365503

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In the UK and Australia they are called lanes (or sometimes laneways), especially if they are fairly wide and pleasant, as is the path shown in your photo. The term "alley" is different, conveying a sense that the road or path is very narrow (especially if it is unpleasant or rundown). In CBD areas, both "alley" and "lane/laneway" are acceptable terms for the narrow path between tall buildings; the choice will be a judgement call for the speaker. The term "alley" is also common for the narrow, cobbled paths in older, densely-built, inner-city residential areas. However, a wide path behind houses in a low-rise leafy residential area such as you depict would never be an alley, only a lane.

Update: My initial answer implied that the terms "lane" and "laneway" were interchangeable in the UK and Australia. Following comments from several others below, it's become apparent that while laneway is in common use in Australia, Canada and some parts of the UK, the term is not used in other parts of the UK. See also: https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/laneway. The subtle differences between, and regional variations in the use of, "lane" and "laneway" are therefore probably deserving of a separate question.

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    Laneway is also used in Canada, as is serviceway.
    – choster
    Sep 29, 2019 at 1:58
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    Strangely I've heard "lane" used a lot for this in Britain, but never "laneway". Indeed my spell checker doesn't even like it. Maybe that's an Australian/Canadian-ism?
    – Muzer
    Sep 29, 2019 at 12:22
  • @Muzer - I've edited my question to take note of your comment about "laneway" being unknown in your part of Britain.
    – TechnoCat
    Sep 29, 2019 at 13:13
  • In the UK there are regional terms such as 'back', 'ginnel', 'alley', 'alleyway', etc. Jan 5, 2023 at 13:19
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There's one behind my father's house in Texas.

It's not just an alley, as mention in this answer, but a service alley (because it allows easy access to the rear of houses by service vehicles).

Here is an example of the usage of this term, from a local news bulletin:

Work will begin on Tuesday, Sept. 3, on the new station that will replace the brick-enclosed station on Clay Avenue at the corner of the park near the service alley.

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I have a narrow roadway behind my house in Ohio. It's called an alleyway, Streets behind or between buildings are often called "alleyways" or "alleys" because it's in the back or side of a building which is why they call them back alleys or side streets. They're not just any alleyway, they're also service alleys.

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