Public utilities such as natural gas, electricity, telephone, cable, water and sewer, and even streetcar service lines are located within the street right-of-way. Utility congestion, both above and below ground is a major problem throughout the city and poses a particular challenge to tree planting and the quality of the sidewalk zone.

The location of utilities in new development areas are planned in accordance with the principles established by the City of Toronto and Toronto Public Utilities Coordinating Committee (TPUCC). Each utility is assigned an “ideal” location horizontally, and a specific depth below the surface. These utilities are mapped by, and are available from the TPUCC. Shallow utilities are located under or near the sidewalks and deeper utilities under the roadway.

New types of utilities, such as telecommunication wires, compete for space under the sidewalk with the ever-expanding network of existing utilities. Trees are difficult to locate within this dense network of utilities, but they are nevertheless a major streetscape element and should be considered to have the same status as other public utilities, if not a higher one.

Given the frequency of disruption to pedestrian surfaces due to emergency and demand-driven utility work, many of the streetscape details in the Manual are designed to facilitate easy access and repair. Each utility requires intermittent maintenance, which usually requires cut repairs if the problem cannot be fixed at an access hole or vault. With dry-laid construction, unit pavers can be removed, excavation and repairs carried out, and the original pavers relayed on a new base, thereby not compromising the functional and aesthetic appearance of the initial installation.