Dear PoPville – Is an Alley Public or Private?

Photo by PoPville flickr user maria jpeg

Dear PoPville,

Following up on the question regarding the 9:30 Club alley, I was wondering if people might know how to determine whether an alley is public vs. private. If it is public, I would specifically like to know how folks go about asking the city to maintain it or re-pave if it is in real disrepair.

20 Comment

  • depends where you live.
    you can request services on the website.

  • Go to the DC GIS website here:

    I only have luck using Microsoft Explorer with this mapping program (who still uses that?!) Anyway you can navigate the map or type in the address and find out all sorts of zoning/planning info for the lot in question. There are a ton of layers you may need to turn on or off in the sidebar.

    • True alleys are all public in DC. Sometimes the boundaries of and ally are hard to know but the 9:30’s rear alley is 100% public.

      I have much better luck with navigation is much faster once you get the hang of it.

    • Aglets

      DC gov seems to only use ME for their browser. We have to work with them & all reporting we have to submit to them requires it which is a pain in the ass for our all-mac business.

  • ah

    The practical way is simply to request services for the alley. DC probably won’t pave an alley that is not public.

    The more formal way is to search the DCGIS database map, and then under transportation check “alleys and parking” and it will show a red line at the alley entrance if it is district owned.

  • huh. funny you ask that. We have an alley on the right side of our rowhouse condo building. It butts up against the backs of the houses on the cross street. It used to have a gate in the back.

    Hobos used to congregate there (and still do occasionally) to do drugs and shit and do whatever it is hobos do. We also got burglarized twice, we figured through the alley. They climbed up the house onto the deck and forced their way in.

    When we tried to put a gate on the other end of the alley, somehow our neighbors were all up in arms about how it’s public property and how the firefighters need that access point. And the gate on the other side magically disappeared.

    The firefighter access thing is a fair point.

    On the other hand, when it comes time to clearing snow and cleaning it (for example clearing it off leaves in the fall or weeding it), it suddenly belongs to us. Never mind that the trees are on the properties owned by set neighbors.

    yeah, my neighbors suck. A specific subset of it anyway. This is Mount Pleasant.

    • Sounds like alleys fall in the same category as sidewalks. Homeowners are responsible for keeping them clear of snow in the winter and weeds/debris in the summer, but the city nees to repave or replace them if necessary. I would submit a request for alley repair to 311 or website and encourage as many of your immediate neighbors on the alley to do the same. Contacting your ANC and council memeber would be helpful too. Squeaky wheels get the grease.

      • I’ve never heard of residents being required to keep their alley clear of snow. That doesn’t seem correct to me.

        • If it’s not, it should be. It certainly is required by the law of common decency and being a good neighbor.

  • 2 summers ago all of us neighbors that resided along the alley East of 16th St NW between Spring Place and Oak St (with Eastern border of Hertford Pl and Ogden St) banded together to get our rubble of an alley replaced.

    Almost every resident along our alley wrote an email to our council member (in this case Jim Graham) each with our own viewpoint and reasoning to have the alley replaced. This was the summer of 2010. Graham contacted DDOT and pushed to have our alley reexamined and determined if it could be pushed up (DC is trying to replace all old alleys but there’s just so many to work on). We found out that our alley was slated to be fixed in 2015 (5 years later) but with Grahams work and the constant pleas of all of us neighbors (both sternly but very politely) we had our alley replaced from start of petition to completion in less than 2 months!

    We have a listserv for our entire alley, so we communicate well amongst each other. But if you know your neighbors a little bit I’d recommend start talking to them and seeing if you can get something similar together. In our case, having many voices of the citizens band together got some immediate action and in record time.

    • ah

      What a system of prioritization: squeaky wheel gets the oil.

      • When it comes to the Grahamstander, absolutely.

      • I disagree. Your analogy (and popular phrase) suggests bribes. There were no bribes. Just constituents making their voices heard. Did we get pushed ahead because of us raising our voices? Sure. But that’s what civic government should be about. The people should rise up (dramatic phrase I know) and have their voices heard. Our alley was baaaad. Enough that the neighbors all said something and we instigated a change. That’s government working in it’s rarest cases and it’s a beautiful thing. Like Graham or not (and I’ve emailed and called him plenty with complaints) but he helped people that petitioned him with purpose.

  • There very, VERY few private alleys in DC. Almost all are public, and dedicated to common use by the general public. This 9:30 Club crap is heavy-handed nonsense; if they want to take over a public alley, they can apply for a public space permit and pay rent like all the responsible businesses in the city.

    • Im a huge fan of that space 🙂
      I think they have earned it for time spent.
      Great neighbors, great people.
      Do whatever you need to keep us neighbors, fans and artists safe 🙂

  • There are a mix of public and private alleys and it’s difficult to know unless one checks the surveyor’s office and deedbooks. GIS does not have all of this information. The public alley system has been altered over the years. Portions or the entire alley may have been “closed” and given to surrounding property owners yet still function visually as an “open” public alley. Nowadays, requesting a closure is a long arduous process.

  • I consider alleys public. I shoot lots of pictures in alleys and am bothered when people leave things there and get upset when I take pictures as if I am on their property. (Also, what is the rule about leaving trash cans in alleys? I assume people are supposed to bring their cans on to their property and not leave them in the alley all week).

  • 9:30 Club is a good neighbor generally, but some of their bands’ little party assistants are a little big for their baggie britches. sometimes they are back there spray painting glitter (or whatever) on their decorations and try to prevent me from exiting the alley onto V street when i’m walking my dog. Fortunately I have a pit bull and a lawyer, so I just ignore their indignant, entitled whining and pass on through. Idiots. Alleyways are PUBLIC.

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