Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Street Definition:

A public way or road, usually urban, and embraces the surface from side to side and end to end.

Related Terms: Alley, Boulevard, Vehicle

To determine whether or not a roadway, alley, highway, sidewalk or even adjacent parking lot is part of a street, reference should always be made first to local ordinances or bylaws, as that definition, if any, would take precedence over the common law meaning of the term.

In Karb v City of Bellingham, Justice Ott of the Supreme Court of Washington held:

"The term street commonly applies to a public highway in a city or town."

In Smith v. City of Birmingham, Justice Cates of the Court of Appeals of Alabama wrote:

"A street is, unless otherwise qualified, a public way or road, usually urban, and embraces the surface from side to side and end to end.

"In common parlance a sidewalk is the part of a street assigned to the use of pedestrians."

But there is a Canadian case1 which takes the contrary view and does not include the sidewalk within the  concept of a street unless otherwise included.

Contemporary case law on point  extends the scope of the legal definition of street not just to the surface but also underground. Consider these words of Justice Pelander of the Court of Appeals of Arizona in City of Bisbee v Arizona Water (2007):

"For purposes of municipal corporations generally, the term streets includes so much beneath the surface as is necessary for a foundation for the surface and for water mains, gas pipes, sewer pipes and conduits of various sorts. The use of a public street or alley for sewer or drainage purposes is necessarily incident to the use for which streets and alleys are open and laid out."


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