A dive into Seattle’s municipal codes found nothing to suggest driving through an alley is illegal, but the code does outline limits on speed and parking and sets standards for rights of way.
When nothing is going right, go left, so the saying goes.
Faced with gridlock on one side and a route that would lead him in the wrong direction on the other, Scott D. devised a solution to his traffic woes: He cuts through the alley between Fifth and Sixth avenues as he drives down Lenora Street downtown.
“I only do so slowly (under the 15 mph limit, closer to 5 mph), and only if the alley is otherwise clear,” Scott said.
Scott asked that his last name not be used, saying he’s received dirty looks from nearby parking attendants and didn’t want to out himself in case what he’s been doing is illegal.
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“On a bad day, one block can take 25 minutes,” Scott said. “I can save 10 minutes of time when I go through an alley.”
Still, he wants to be sure he’s following the rules, so he wrote to Traffic Lab for some advice.
“Am I in the clear on this?” he asked.
The short answer? “Yes, it is legal to drive through alleys unless signed otherwise,” said Karen Westing, a city spokeswoman.
It is also legal to walk through alleys unless signed otherwise, Westing said.
A dive into Seattle’s municipal codes also found nothing to suggest driving through an alley is illegal, but the code does outline limits on speed and parking, and sets standards for rights of way.
The Seattle City Council in 1979 defined alleys as a “highway not designed for general travel” and “primarily used as means of access” to the rear of homes, apartment buildings and businesses.
Alleys are prioritized for commercial or service-vehicle access, and authorized emergency vehicles. City code prohibits anyone from stopping, standing or parking a vehicle within an alley in a way that would block access to adjacent property. There is no set limit of time for how long you can park in an alley, but only commercial vehicles with a permit may park there, Westing said.
The maximum speed permitted in an alley is 15 mph.
In a 2010 Seattle Times story, a former city traffic engineer said all alleys in the city allow for two-way travel, unless they are marked with “One Way” or “Do Not Enter” signs. Those markings may be posted for alleys with heavy traffic, those used by oversized vehicles or those that are too narrow for two-way driving.
When emerging from an alley, drivers are supposed to yield the right of way to any pedestrian, bicyclist or car when entering into the adjacent roadway. In Bellevue, any vehicle exiting an alley must first stop and yield to pedestrians, bicyclists and all other vehicles.
The Seattle Department of Transportation in 2015 partnered with other city agencies to create “vibrant new spaces” by sprucing up alleys in the International District and Pioneer Square. New brick pavers were added and the stormwater-drainage systems were updated. The space has held musical performances and artist displays.
A celebration for the completion of the Nord Alley and Pioneer Passage projects was held Thursday.