Most lanes in the City of London were created by Plans of Subdivision registered prior to the 1930's to facilitate horse drawn carriage access to the rear of the property where the carriage shed was usually located. "Survey Lanes" as they were commonly referred to, were considered to be privately owned until the 1920 Surveys Act stipulated that lanes shown on Plans of Subdivision were deemed to be public lanes owned by the municipality. It wasn't until the 1980's when a Provincial Court Judge ruled that (with some exceptions) all lanes shown on Registered Plans of Subdivision are to be considered public lanes owned by the local municipality, and the City has accepted administrative ownership of most lanes on that basis.
Although the City accepts that it owns most public lanes, the City has never assumed lanes for maintenance for several reasons. Firstly, since many lanes were thought to be privately owned, the City never had a formal maintenance policy for lanes until recently. Aside from the obvious budget impact of formally assuming lanes for maintenance, there are many practical concerns. Lanes are typically narrow and are frequently obstructed and difficult to impossible to navigate with modern maintenance vehicles. Also, since lanes were never built to any proper standard, maintenance vehicles would likely cause damage to the lane and adjacent properties. Since there is no room for snow storage the snow would have to be trucked away which is cost prohibitive.
These are just some of the reasons the City has continued its long standing policy of not formally assuming lanes for full-fledged maintenance, although the City's lane maintenance By-Law does provide for a limited level of service.
To affirm, Section 31(5) of the Municipal Act 2001, as amended, sets out that municipalities are not responsible for maintenance of highways [includes lanes] laid out before January 1, 2003 unless they have previously been assumed for public use by the municipality or the highway was established by by-law, neither of which has occurred in the case of most public lanes in the City.