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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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This alley ran behind Treanor's Dairy in downtown Dubuque.
ALLEYS. An alley or alleyway is a narrow, pedestrian lane found in urban areas which usually runs between or behind buildings. Alleys may be paved or simply dirt tracks. A blind alley with no outlet at one end is a cul-de-sac.

In the United States alleys exist for both service purposes and automobile access in both older commercial and residential areas. In residential areas, primarily those built before 1950, alleys provide rear access to property where a garage was located, or where waste could be collected by service vehicles. A benefit of this was the location of these activities to the rear, less public side of a dwelling. By 1950 they had largely disappeared from development plans for new homes. Chicago, Illinois has about 1,900 miles of alleyways making it the largest network of alleyways in the world.

Clutter in Dubuque's alleys was a concern in 1866. The City Marshal and a group of men were scheduled to start cleaning and businessmen could save the cost by doing the work themselves. "The sanitary condition of the city must be improved at once and this is the last warning." (1) W. Murphy did not take the announcement seriously and was arrested. Murphy keep several hog pens in the alley near his home. The offensive odor was classified a nuisance; he was fined $4.10. (2) The Marshal returned to property owners who did not clean their own alleys and collected the cost of the labor. "The city has got to be put in good condition for the CHOLERA whether the epidemic comes here or not." (3) Beginning in 1866, the city Sanitary Committee began placing barrels in alleys around the city. Residents were required to use these for the disposal of kitchen waste. (4)

In 1903 businessmen and merchants in the business district of Dubuque began considering the advantages of having incandescent lights placed in alleys running behind their properties. The plan was to wire the alleys on both sides of Main Street from Second to Eleventh street. Three lamps of "16 candle power" each would be placed in every block. This, it was felt, would give enough light to policemen to see what was happening. Police had argued that due to the large boxes stacked in the alleys and the darkness that it was impossible to see.

Photo: 2015. Rock under the pavers allow for water to be absorbed.
Pavers installed in an alley.
Sign accompanying completed work.
The City of Dubuque was awarded $98.5 million in sales tax revenues by the Iowa Flood Mitigation Board toward the $219 million BEE BRANCH Watershed Flood Mitigation Project. (5) In 2015 Dubuque had approximately 300 alleys. (6) All alleys and other impervious surfaces contributed to the flooding problems throughout the watershed. Storm water during major rain events exceeded the capacity of the storm sewer system. (7)

The Green Alley program in the City of Dubuque was designed to reconstruct downtown alleys using permeable pavements to reduce and slow the volume of stormwater through the watershed.. The City began reconstructing an alley or two a year for several years prior to 2011. (8) To reduce the amount of impervious surfaces, approximately 240 alleys in the watershed were scheduled to be converted to "green alleys." Twenty-three alleys were completed in 2014 with another 50 planned for 2015 and 2016. The remaining alleys in the Bee Branch Watershed were scheduled to be reconstructed between 2024 and 2038. This conversion was expected to reduce storm water runoff within the Bee Branch Watershed by up to 80%. (9)

Studies conducted on the ability of permeable pavement systems to reduce runoff indicated that alley pavers had the capability to infiltrate up to 100 inches per hour when newly installed. The permeable pavement were expected to provide up to 80% reduction in runoff from the alleys, based on studies from the Environmental Protection Agency. The City stated it would provide for regular alley sweeping and vacuuming in order to maintain the permeable nature of the pavers. The City would replace loose or broken pavers if they should occur. (10)

Pavers were used instead of permeable asphalt or concrete. From a surface life cycle standpoint, they were a more cost-effective option over the long term. Another benefit of the pavers was that the alley surface can be “un-zippered” and replaced if, after the alley was reconstructed, an underground utility repair needed to be completed. This saved on repair costs. (11)

The pavers were initially expected to settle about a half inch. They were installed with this initial settling in mind. Additional settling or shifting was expected to be minimal because concrete collars or bands were installed along the edge of the alley to hold the pavers in place, and because of the significant amount of clean stone aggregate underneath the pavers. (12) Beneath the pavers lie between two and three feet of various sized stone: twenty-four inches of No. 2 stone as a base, four inches of No. 57 stone, and two inches of No. 8 stone (the smallest) which lie just beneath the pavers. The alleys also contain a six inch drain tile and are graded so that stormwater that does not pass entirely through into the ground flows to the center of the alley where it flows into the street and into the storm sewer system. (13)

Alleys that did not contain water and sewer utilities required about a month to reconstruct, depending upon weather. Alleys that contained sewer and water utilities took a month and a half to two months to reconstruct. (14)



1. "Clean the Alleys," Dubuque Herald, April 14, 1866, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18660414&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

2. "Arrested for Keeping a Nuisance," Dubuque Herald, April 18, 1866, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18660418&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

3. "Cleaning Alleys," Dubuque Herald, April 21, 1866, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18660421&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

4. "Special Notice," Dubuque Herald, May 25, 1866, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18660525&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

5. Barton, Thomas J. "Building a Better Alley," Telegraph Herald, May 22, 2016, p. 1

6. City of Dubuque. Online: http://www.cleanwateriowa.org/...id=30&City of Dubuque, Iowa

7. City of Dubuque. Online: http://www.cityofdubuque.org/1886/FAQs

8. "Dubuque Green Alley," Online: http://www.rainscapingiowa.org/index.php/projects/northeast?view=joomd&layout=detail&id=25

9. "Green Alley Reconstruction," City of Dubuque. Online: http://www.cityofdubuque.org/1818/Green-Alley-Reconstruction

10. City of Dubuque (2)

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. Barton

14. City of Dubuque (2)