Walking outside in New York City is a basically a terrible, terrible idea this week. There are piles of slush and mess from days of on and off sleet, freezing rain, snow and ice. But for some pedestrian and cycling advocates, there’s a silver lining to all of the mess, and it has the best name ever: It’s called a sneckdown.
Sneckdowns are a play on the term neckdown, itself an urban planning term for street improvements that expand the curb further into the roadway. These are generally used to calm traffic, make drivers more aware of pedestrians, and prevent them from making speeding turns. Advocates for livable streets love them. Hardcore drivers do not. They argue for all the road they can get, regardless of whether it’s the best use of precious urban space.
That’s where the snowy slushy mess comes in and forms a sneckdown, or a temporary neckdown. The snow formations left after a few hours of plowing and busy, snowbound commuting day expose the traces of street space that cars do not use. Images of sneckdowns—a term coined in 2001 by the group Transportation Alternatives—can help advocates make the case to their cities for more permanent street improvements.
Over the years, in 2007 and 2011, Streetfilms has made two videos of sneckdowns (see above). With this winter’s messy weather, the idea of a sneckdown has taken on new life, with the hashtag #sneckdown on Twitter providing plenty of examples.
In the photo slide show above, for example, you can see sneckdown images in Philadelphia from the blog This Old City that make a case for pedestrian plazas on East Passyunk Avenue—a diagonal street that causes lots of pedestrian confusion. Writer Jon Geeting says: "To my delight, the snow revealed some awesome traffic calming ideas I hadn’t considered."
So take the best advantage of the snow and use this week as an opportunity to imagine how your streets can be improved.