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"We [science fiction writers] always wanted to believe in "private sector" space -- hucksters make better characters than a government does."
- Larry Niven

Space-Lanes  
  Well-traveled routes through outer space.  

As far as I know, this is the first instance of the phrase "space-lanes".

He had travelled the space-lanes of the solar system for the greater part of his life, and now all of his time-honored rules of interplanetary navigation had been upset by this new cruiser.
From Crashing Suns, by Edmond Hamilton.
Published by Popular Fiction Publishing Co. in 1928
Additional resources -

The idea of "space lanes" seems clear; the term is analogous to "sea lanes", the well-trafficked courses that merchant ships take from one port to another. However, since the various bodies of the solar system are in constant motion relative to each other, and since the entire solar system itself is moving through space around the center of the galaxy, which is itself moving through space, the idea of static space-lanes seems unworkable. But it's a great concept for story writing.

Another instance can be found in the excellent 1934 short story Cosmic Teletype by Carl Jacobi. Jospeph Rane, injured during college and missing part of his brain, turned what was left to scientific pursuits. He succeeded in constructing a device able to contact inhabitants of distant worlds.

The messages were in code; but once translated, they revealed an entire civilization at war.

General emergency report. Dromeda, daughter of Calian and most beautiful woman in all Lirius was kidnapped early today by a man thought to be Tarana, son of the king of Uranus. It is believed that Tarana arrived secretly on Lirius on a space ship, traveling out of patrolled space-lanes. A council of war will be held immediately.

By the 1950's, this phrase had become a cliche. Take a look at this ironic excerpt from Philip K. Dick's short story Sales Pitch:

Commute ships roared on all sides, as Ed Morris made his way wearliy home to Earth at the end of a long hard day at the office. The Ganymede-Terra lanes were choked with exhausted, grim-faced businessmen; Jupiter was in opposition to Earth and the trip was a good two hours. Every few million miles the great flow slowed to a grinding, agonized halt; signal-lights flashed as streams from Mars and Saturn fed into the main traffic-arteries.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Crashing Suns
  More Ideas and Technology by Edmond Hamilton
  Tech news articles related to Crashing Suns
  Tech news articles related to works by Edmond Hamilton

Space-Lanes-related news articles:
  - Arches Of Chaos: Jovian Space Manifolds Create A Celestial Autobahn
  - Gravitational Corridors Like Space-Lanes
  - Teen's Solar System Travel Software Wins Intel Prize

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Space 'Hurricane' Has Been Seen
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