SHERIDAN — Alleys often go overlooked or ignored. Despite being afterthoughts, alleys serve an essential function for daily transportation and community aesthetics. So which way should people in Sheridan drive through the narrow passageways?
The answer in most cases is that it doesn’t matter. Around the country, alley guidelines are determined at the local level. Unlike uncontrolled intersections in Sheridan — where no stop or yield sign is present — the federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways doesn’t affect alleys because of the low daily traffic count.
The only local alleys that are designated one-way are those that fall in about a three-by-eight block area in downtown Sheridan. The perimeter is composed of Brooks and Gould streets running north-south and Burkitt and Dow streets running east-west.
“They’re 10-foot wide alleys, very narrow, and they do get traffic from deliveries and garbage trucks and everything else,” city of Sheridan public works director Lane Thompson said.
“(There are) narrow alleys and buildings built up all the way to the alley. This is our little slice of urban development.”
Per a Sheridan municipal code ordinance passed 68 years ago, drivers can only move south in any alley between Main and Gould streets in this designated area. For alleys between Main and Brooks streets, vehicles must drive north.
East-west alleys — of which there are few in the 24-block area — are uncontrolled.
However, these alleys are marked with one-way signs so drivers know when they might be driving the wrong way. Thompson said the ordinance has not changed since its initial passage in 1950.
All of the other alleys — mostly composed of dirt and/or gravel — in the county are uncontrolled because of the low traffic count and room for vehicles to maneuver around each other if they are driving opposite directions.
“People are almost always conscientious,” Thompson said. “We’ve never really gotten any complaints on them … Usually in an alley, you’re dealing with your neighbors so that adds that level of being more friendly. It’s not like you’re driving from one end of town to the other in alleys.”
Like most towns and cities across the country, Sheridan developed with many alleys in the early 1900s. They became less common in the 1950s and ‘60s but are coming back a bit.
“You can kind of drive around town and see how old that subdivision or that area is,” Thompson said. “If it has alleys, it’s (built in the) 1940s, ‘50s or earlier. If it doesn’t have alleys, it’s later than that.”
That is generally the format around the country as well. Newer suburban developments have fewer alleys.
Alley widths in Sheridan County vary greatly. Most are 12 to 15 feet wide, but some might be as wide as 18 feet or as narrow as 8 feet in older areas.
Alleys take care of the less pleasing aspects of homes and businesses, like overgrown vegetation and waste, and for local businesses, alleys keep the dirty work mostly out of sight.
Centennial Theatre owner Bill Campbell said his business utilizes the east-west alley next to the theater for trash removal — garbage trucks drive in the alley and empty the business’s dumpster — and product deliveries. He said the theater hasn’t had any issues in the alley, either.
“You put the stuff that you don’t want to see every day in the back,” Thompson said.
Most people don’t think about alleys very often, unless they face a garbage truck or a deep snow has made driving down one a risky proposition.
Yet they serve a vital role in towns and cities and help share the history of communities.