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It seems that there is indeed a common standard used to determine how much of most front yards is municipal road allowance.
But we had to hear it many times over from professional land surveyors who say the dimensions of the road allowance on the average, two-lane residential street is 66 feet, and not just in Toronto but across North America.
Our Saturday column was about how the city figures out how much land between the sidewalk and a homeowner’s property line is road allowance or city property.
We asked the city if a common standard or measure is used. The answer was no, so we asked to talk to someone who could tell us how it’s done.
We eventually got a call from Naz Capano, manager of operational planning and policy with transportation services. He insisted that there is or was no common standard. But he was unable to explain how the city figures it out.
So that’s what we wrote, which prompted a deluge of email from readers, including many in the surveying business, who said the city’s answer is nonsense.
Several scolded us for not asking a surveyor in the first place, but since it’s the city that makes the final call we wanted to give it a chance to say how it is done before turning to third parties.
Doug Jemmett’s note said “most streets and road allowances are 66 feet, but the underlying plan of survey would need to be checked for confirmation.”
Brent Raymond said our column “was not entirely fair to Mr. Capano,” and that it “seems as though you were going out of your way to embarrass him,” adding that the typical right-of-way on older residential streets is about 20 metres, which translates to 65.6 feet.
A surveyor who identified herself only as Donna emailed us eight lot plans used to lay out streets in various GTA communities, including North York; all of which show the road allowance as 66 feet.
Perhaps the best explanation came from Gunars Vestfals, retired after a 38-year career in surveying that included working for the City of Toronto and the pre-amalgamation Metro level of government.
Vestfals explained that the 66-foot road allowance originated in 1620 with Edmund Gunter, an English cleric who invented a survey measuring device that came to be known as Gunter’s chain.
“It was 66 feet long, comprising 100 links, so there after, land measurements were recorded in chains and links,” he said. “By the late 1800s, distances were measured in feet and inches, then feet and decimals (easier to calculate) and finally in meters.
“Most municipal streets were laid out at 66 feet wide in towns, subdivisions, etc. Modern subdivisions are now in metric and at 20 meters. Roads such as downtown Yonge St. or Bay St. are literally 66 feet building to building across their widths.
“Over time, municipalities required wider arterial roads, so they expropriated abutting lands by 10 feet or 17 feet on either side, making the roads 86 feet or 100 feet wide.”
Vestfal’s explanation was so thorough and convincing that we went back to Capano, told him what he and other surveyors had told us and asked if he wanted another kick at the can.
“Sixty six feet was the minimum standard not just to accommodate a road, but all the various utilities that were being introduced,” he responded, adding that the idea was to create enough room for two lanes of traffic, parking sidewalks and any work required along the periphery.
“So that’s how they came up with that standard, and it has been in existence almost since the turn of the century,” he said, adding it’s a “general standard” that can vary, particularly on narrow streets in the inner city.
We asked him if he agreed that the 66 feet roads allowance makes up the majority of Toronto streets, particularly in areas such as Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough.
“Yes I do,” he replied. “Generally, the bulk of the suburban roads are 66 feet.”
We wish we could’ve told you that last week.
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