It’s Sneckdown Season: What Cities Can Learn From Snow-Covered Streets

PLAY OF THE LAND

Whether or not you’ve heard the term “sneckdown,” you likely know what it is. The portmanteau refers to snowy neckdowns—or curb extensions made of snow—that occur when cars follow the natural flow of traffic on snow-covered roads, leaving behind piles of snow to navigate around. For drivers, they mean traversing messy roads with a more careful eye and slower pace. For pedestrians, they mean shorter intersections and places to stand atop while waiting for a light to turn. But for city planners and urbanists, they are full of opportunities.

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“Since post WWII, the transportation sector was trained to make streets wider and faster, and in doing so generally forgot about the place and people function of streets,” says Gary Toth, director of transportation for Project for Public Spaces. “In the 21st century, as people started thinking more about how complete streets operated, the challenge became how to shrink streets to give some of that space back to alternative functions.”

Since post WWII, the transportation sector was trained to make streets wider and faster, and in doing so generally forgot about the place and people function of streets.

While permanent traffic calming measures have been successfully incorporated in many cities in the form of bulb-outs, pedestrian islands and more, it’s a controversial topic. Car-centric cities are often hesitant to give up wider roads and larger intersections, but sneckdown makes it clear that drivers rarely utilize all the road space allotted to them.

“You can create model after model, show off positive examples from other cities, and one day someone’s sitting outside after a light snow and can see where the cars are going as the pavement becomes exposed, proving that drivers aren’t using that space anyway,” Toth explains. “It’s so intuitive that it wins the argument.”

It’s an argument that’s been won in Philadelphia, where the city’s streets department added a permanent pedestrian triangle to a busy intersection after a blog post highlighting the city’s many sneckdowns went viral.

Officially coined in 2014 by the Streetsblog team, sneckdown has made its way across social media, popping up each winter after a major snow storm leaves behind evidence of where to improve city streets. We’ve compiled a few of our favorite sneckdown examples, below:

An intersection before snowfall. All images courtesy of Streetfilms.
A sneckdown at an intersection after snowfall.
Possible pedestrian islands based on sneckdowns.
Possible curb extensions based on sneckdowns.
A crosswalk before snowfall.
A sneckdown at a crosswalk after snowfall.
Possible curb extensions based on sneckdowns.
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