Greater Greater Washington

"Sneckdowns" reveal the street space cars don't use

Every time it snows, vast sections of city streets remain covered by snow long after plows and moving cars have cleared the travel lanes. These leftover spaces are called "sneckdowns," and they show where sidewalks or medians could replace roads without any loss to car drivers.


A DC sneckdown from the 2009 snow storm. Original photo by Rudi Riet on Flickr.

The term sneckdown is a portmanteau of "snow" and "neckdown," the latter being another term for sidewalk curb extensions. So it literally means a sidewalk extension created by snow.

Following the recent snow storm in New York, Streetsblog put out a call for photos of sneckdowns in the wild. They received plenty of responses.

Next time it snows here, be on the lookout.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for Arlington County, but his blog posts represent only his own personal views. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives car-free in Washington. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post

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Related - I've never understood DC's requirement for a 40-foot setback from intersections for on-street parking.

by Frank IBC on Jan 8, 2014 12:17 pm • linkreport

" without any loss to car drivers." Not exactly sure that's true. It appears drivers have driven in the sneckdown, and I can see a driver also trying to park there (if allowed). I agree with the proposition of more bump outs, but I don't think there is NO loss to car drivers.

by JDC on Jan 8, 2014 12:25 pm • linkreport

@Frank IBC

Setback is generally done to allow for larger vehicles with a wider turning radius, but most importantly for large fire department apparatus (engines and ladder trucks).

by ontarioroader on Jan 8, 2014 12:45 pm • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by really? on Jan 8, 2014 1:06 pm • linkreport

While I agree, isn't R St one lane one way? Not much left to pare down. Also there is the 99th percentile case like when I see (or am) a moving truck parked in the street and people can't get around.

by BTA on Jan 8, 2014 1:16 pm • linkreport

Frank IBC, on the other hand Alexandria has little or no enforcement of parking directly at intersections, and cars often encroach into sidewalks. SUVs, large vans, or any vehicle can easily block stop signs. It also makes crossing a busy streets (in a car) difficult because sight lines are obstructed. I think that a good use of these "sneckdown" spaces is bicycle parking or bike share stations. The plus is that it helps drivers and pedestrians by preventing parking and keeping the sightlines open.

by spookiness on Jan 8, 2014 1:30 pm • linkreport

There may be examples of this, but this photo isn't one of them. The area you circled (as you can clearly see in the photo) has a wide pedestrian crosswalk. Of course no one parks there, it isn't unused space, its space thats illegal to park on.

Extremely poor example for what is a iffy suposition to beginb with...

by What? on Jan 8, 2014 1:34 pm • linkreport

There may be examples of this, but this photo isn't one of them. The area you circled (as you can clearly see in the photo) has a wide pedestrian crosswalk. Of course no one parks there, it isn't unused space, its space thats illegal to park on.

And the purpose of the neckdown isn't to take away parking spaces, but to narrow the road space devoted to car travel.

Yes, the snow is in the crosswalk - which is why it's a perfect illustation of a roadway neckdown (aka a sidewalk curb extension).

The whole purpose is to take that wide pedestrian crosswalk and make the crossing distance shorter by extending the sidewalk into the street. You can always click through the link on the original post to see more examples:

http://streetswiki.wikispaces.com/Curb+Extensions

by Alex B. on Jan 8, 2014 1:39 pm • linkreport

For what purpose, its already a one way street, and you are narrowing it for what...5 feet? What is the point of that, especially on a one way street.

Whats the expression..."solution in search of a problem"

by What? on Jan 8, 2014 1:46 pm • linkreport

@Alex B.
And the purpose of the neckdown isn't to take away parking spaces, but to narrow the road space devoted to car travel.
but as others have noted, roads are not only for small passenger cars but also for moving trucks and firefighting equipment. I suppose a soft curb could be put in that is designed to be run over but that then reduces confidence in pedestrians.

by Richard on Jan 8, 2014 1:48 pm • linkreport

For what purpose, its already a one way street, and you are narrowing it for what...5 feet? What is the point of that, especially on a one way street.

The purpose is to improve safety.

- shorten the distance to cross.
- provides the pedestrian crossing a safe refuge on the curb where they can see oncoming traffic (they're not hidden behind a parked car).
- the neckdown forces cars to slow down as they proceed through the intersection, improving safety.

by Alex B. on Jan 8, 2014 1:50 pm • linkreport

but as others have noted, roads are not only for small passenger cars but also for moving trucks and firefighting equipment.

And the moving trucks will still be able to navigate that intersection with ease. They'll still be able to drive in that lane (it's not getting narrower), they'll still be able to make that corner, they'll still be able to do all of those things.

by Alex B. on Jan 8, 2014 1:53 pm • linkreport

I support the concept of strategically reducing excessive street area, but there is a flaw in this concept which can be illustrated in my recent drive along I-70 in the mountains of Colorado. I-70 is two lanes, but in the aftermath of a snowstorm, all of the traffic stuck to the left lane. Traffic was congested and would have benefited from drivers using both lanes, but the volume of traffic in the left lane had generally cleared that lane of snow, while the right lane remained snowy. The fact that there was snow in the right lane forced drivers to avoid it, which only served to clear the left lane further and make the right lane even less appealing. So the "sneckdowns" are self-fulfilling. It is not always possible to equate a "sneckdown" with a piece of pavement that is unnecessary in clear weather.

by Andrew on Jan 8, 2014 1:57 pm • linkreport

I would be a strong supporter of expanding the sidewalk in those locations ONLY if additional loading/delivery spaces were designated on each block. Remove three parking spaces and designate them for taxis, USPS, UPS, etc. Those unused spaces may often be the safest places these short term tasks.

by Atlas on Jan 8, 2014 2:51 pm • linkreport

+1 Atlas

by JDC on Jan 8, 2014 3:01 pm • linkreport

Well, usually a curb extension is built to accommodate the turning radius of fire & rescue equipment. Often times, the corners will have a longer arc than a typical street design.

by Neil Flanagan on Jan 8, 2014 3:05 pm • linkreport

@ Atlas:Remove three parking spaces and designate them for taxis, USPS, UPS, etc.

Yeah, let's give public space to private companies! Good idea! If you like corporate handouts. Also, those companies will stop whereever is closest to the address they need to be. If they need to be three houses up, that's where they'll stop.

by Jasper on Jan 8, 2014 3:06 pm • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by Zipcar on Jan 8, 2014 3:21 pm • linkreport

Let's stop and think about this: what about accessible for people with disabilities?

People with reduced mobility, person traveling with their wheeled mobility devices (wheelchairs), and mobility aids will have difficulty to get on/off the sidewalk if all corner's curb cuts are not cleared. Plus sidewalk need to be clear (not 6 inches wide).

DC Government isn't doing a good job in this area informing the public to clear the sidewalk and corner curb cuts.

David

by Dave on Jan 8, 2014 3:41 pm • linkreport

+1 to Andrew. In my experience, people drive where there is a clear path. There is a clear path where others have already driven; so one driver's use of the road might not be indicative of their preferred usage but just what others have done before.

And I'll also add that those who choose to drive in the snow aren't always our best drivers. So I'm not sure they're patterns are ones to follow.

by RDHD on Jan 8, 2014 3:41 pm • linkreport

@zipcar:
Before moderating your comment, we attempted to reach out to you to give you a chance to come into compliance with the Comment Policy.

However, the email address you are using is fake. If you contact moderator (at) ggwash.org, we will be happy to explain the issue to you.

by MODERATOR on Jan 8, 2014 3:52 pm • linkreport

Yes but in many of the pictures its clear that a lot of places aren't travel lanes either. It's usually a parking lane. And it's been pointed out that they can be designed to accomdate wide turning vehicles.

by drumz on Jan 8, 2014 4:01 pm • linkreport

But these spaces -- where we find crosswalks, fire hydrants, and stop signs -- are needed by PG residents for their free unlimited Sunday parking. In the world of the law-abiding, however, the traffic calming measures look like a great idea.

by Sydney on Jan 8, 2014 5:57 pm • linkreport

As far as I can tell, all this is evidence of is a location where the plows piled the snow.

By this same "logic", snow piled in a bike lane would be evidence of that said lane was unneeded, because if it were needed, the snow would be gone, n'est-ce pas?

by Craig on Jan 8, 2014 6:49 pm • linkreport

The video referenced in the Streetsblog post is very helpful, I think. The "sneckdowns" aren't just the thin layers of snow in an outside lane that drivers avoid immediately after snowfall; they're also the large, 10ft+ chunks of snowpack that form in the corners of intersections several days later... after snowplows have repatriated most of the roadway, large vehicles (like school buses) are back on the road, and the city (NYC) has returned to normal.

Think of this as an accidental experiment: maybe vehicles slow down, and (God forbid) actually enter the intersection before they turn; maybe something disastrous happens. Either way, you only have to live with the changes for a few days, and maybe you'll see something you want to make permanent. I hear Chris Christie tried a similar short-term experiment on the George Washington Bridge a few months back...didn't work out, but hey, it was only temporary.

by Steven H on Jan 8, 2014 7:21 pm • linkreport

I am a strong advocate of easy pedestrian mobility, as are most people who read this blog. While the bump outs are great for areas promoting an intense level of pedestrian activity, I don't think they should be the standard everywhere.

The fact is the extra road space at the intersection is used for several things: turning of larger vehicles (ie. maintenance, emergency and delivery) and as an extra turning or bypass lane to pass another vehicle that is yielding for another movement. Basically, they help ease flow through intersections, and intersections can be the main source of backups on urban roads. Narrowing these intersection areas, while great for the pedestrian crosswalks, risks creating congestion backups that may put pressure to widen the whole length of roads altogether.

Definitely not saying to put the car above the pedestrian, just to be mindful of the need for balance.

by Chris Allen, PE on Jan 8, 2014 8:28 pm • linkreport

@ Dave

You forgot one sad thing most people dont give a damn about the disabled which can be seen with the design of almost everything just look at the streets, sidewalks, Metrostations, and buildings. I have even read comments on here that pretty much say f the disabled in a way to not offend the disabled.

I have said stuff on here multiple times about the lack of designing streets, sidewalks and even metrostation/busbay/busstop layouts that could work with the disabled instead of against them. I could probably point out something along every major street and at every metrostation that works against the disabled.

by kk on Jan 9, 2014 12:12 am • linkreport

Craig hit the nail on the head. Piling snow in a space then claiming that space is wasted because no cars can park there seems like a bit of odd logic.

by OX4 on Jan 9, 2014 7:16 am • linkreport

Some of y'all have real odd definitions of "piled" if we're going by what's in the pictures provided by Dan and Streetsblog.

by drumz on Jan 9, 2014 7:33 am • linkreport

The premise of this piece is absurd. It is ridiculous to extrapolate to saying drivers don't need a space that is clogged with snow on rare occasions. However, to propose putting in a bumped-out sidewalk ignores the mechanics of street cleaning. If that's bumped out, plows will fail to clear out more of the street resulting in loss of more parking -- but, then you take a photo of more piles of snow and claim that drivers don't need that space either.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Jan 9, 2014 8:55 am • linkreport

I doubt anyone would say that every patch of snow means automatic conversion to a sidewalk. It's just an illustration of how much pavement is devoted to cars that can be hard to notice except when there is a chance to see it in literal black and white.

We have engineers to figure out the balance between a bulb out and a street plow. Until then, it's a good idea to point out to regular folks that there are plenty of places where we can improve the pedestrian experience with little impact on actual throughput.

I don't know how "snow can illustrate how wide our streets really are" got translated into "every spot a snowflake falls is an obvious sign that our war on cars is succeeding".

by drumz on Jan 9, 2014 9:07 am • linkreport

The premise of this piece is absurd. It is ridiculous to extrapolate to saying drivers don't need a space that is clogged with snow on rare occasions.

That is absurd, indeed. Good thing that isn't the premise of the post.

The premise is that the snow provides a 'natural experiment.' It's not that the snow proves the spaces is unneeded for cars, but rather the snow shows that cars will work just fine if we were to implement this kind of design with curbs, bricks, concrete, etc.

by Alex B. on Jan 9, 2014 9:15 am • linkreport

kk Yes. I agree about code-language that sneers at the disabled without being too-obvious. So many times the word "walkable" is used to mean pretty literally "designed for those who don't need wheelchairs, curb drop-offs, parking, and mobility vehicles".

by asffa on Jan 9, 2014 10:07 am • linkreport

ddot did the intersection popout on the renovated New Hampshire ave nw, between Washington and DuPont Circle. They look great, so we will soon learn how they work out.

Also, this is a block from a firehouse, so I assume DCFD is OK with them.

by David G on Jan 9, 2014 10:09 am • linkreport

" the snow shows that cars will work just fine if we were to implement this kind of design with curbs, bricks, concrete, etc."

It shows nothing of the kind. Lost parking spaces in the city will impact drivers. Period. This photo doesn't show what other drivers had to do to find a parking space that isn't unusable because it's clogged with ice and snow. It also doesn't show that the weather itself might have temporarily reduced the demand for that parking spot...which will return when the weather improves.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Jan 9, 2014 11:19 am • linkreport

It shows nothing of the kind. Lost parking spaces in the city will impact drivers. Period. This photo doesn't show what other drivers had to do to find a parking space that isn't unusable because it's clogged with ice and snow.

The picture doesn't show any lost parking spaces at all - it shows snow in a crosswalk.

Let me repeat: a curb extension at a crosswalk does not reduce the number of parking spaces.

The picture's text reads "unused space," not "unused parking space." Look at the pavement not covered by snow, and you can clearly see the zebra stripes that indicate this is a crosswalk.

by Alex B. on Jan 9, 2014 11:22 am • linkreport

I don't get the point of the post.

The "unused space" circle in the picture appears to be the 10-feet-from-the-corner space where parking is prohibited anyway, so cars already can't use that street space.

by ceefer66 on Jan 9, 2014 11:26 am • linkreport

To clarify my comment at the top, I do believe parking setbacks are necessary. I'm just asking why DC needs to have the longest setback in the country - 40 feet from the intersection. In other cities the average is around 20 feet.

by Frank IBC on Jan 9, 2014 11:26 am • linkreport

The "unused space" circle in the picture appears to be the 10-feet-from-the-corner space where parking is prohibited anyway, so cars already can't use that street space.

So, the only thing cars are used for is parking?

by Alex B. on Jan 9, 2014 11:30 am • linkreport

Let's think about the consequences of removing those "sneckdown for a minute.

In our zeal to make things just a little more inconvenient for those hated "SUV drivers from PG County", we should make it harder for large vehicles like moving vans, snowplows and fire trucks to turn into the block.

The area can remain covered with snow and the house can burn just as long as "people from PG" have less places to park.

OK. I guess that clears it up.

by ceefer66 on Jan 9, 2014 11:32 am • linkreport

Except that a curb extension does not make it harder for a moving truck or a fire truck to turn on the block.

by Alex B. on Jan 9, 2014 11:36 am • linkreport

Not sure it's reasonable to use snow/ice covered streets as a measure of regular traffic. When parts of a street are barely passable, a prudent driver sticks to the clear road (I know I do). Doesn't mean the unplowed, iced-over portion isn't useful for cars under more normal circumstances.

by Willow on Jan 9, 2014 11:51 am • linkreport

Again, this isn't to say the snow proves anything about any particular block. It does show that there are lots of places to improve thing for pedestrians that wouldn't require taking away a through lane.

by drumz on Jan 9, 2014 11:54 am • linkreport

Alex B. "- provides the pedestrian crossing a safe refuge on the curb where they can see oncoming traffic (they're not hidden behind a parked car)."
It doesn't seem to be a big problem now. And doesn't a walk signal inform pedestrians?

Chris Allen, PE "and as an extra turning or bypass lane to pass another vehicle that is yielding for another movement. Basically, they help ease flow through intersections, and intersections can be the main source of backups on urban roads."
Exactly. With these, one vehicle waiting to turn will back up the entire line of vehicles behind them.

by Bob See on Jan 9, 2014 12:03 pm • linkreport

In so far that pedestrian bulb outs are things that already exist, in and around DC no less. The purpose of this is to consider how sometimes snow can reveal where additional ones go in.

There's no expectation that a bulb out would be installed without even a cursory look at impact on vehicle throughput. That said, choices sometimes have to be made and in those cases I'd rather go with the choice that makes things easier/safer for the pedestrian.

by drumz on Jan 9, 2014 12:08 pm • linkreport

I like this. The pop-outs change the ratio of car space to people space in favor of people--that's the direction to go in if the city is to prioritize livability for people over accommodation of cars. We're so used to cars' ubiquity that we don't realize that they own the place. Take the city back from the cars and give it to the people! It will then be a much more pleasant place to live.

by like_dry_pavement on Jan 9, 2014 1:55 pm • linkreport

One of the most common dangers to pedestrians is when a turning driver strikes the pedestrian when they have the walk signal. This is such a common crash type for several reasons, many of which are addressed by neck downs. First, neck downs slow turning drivers because they create a tighter turning radius... drivers can't begin a turn before entering the intersection because that "unused space" isn't available for them to cut the corner at a higher speed. Also, by creating a tighter turning radius, drivers don't have to turn their head as far to see a crossing pedestrian because they are closer to completing their turn by the time they exit the intersection.

In addition to pedestrian safety, neck downs can play an incredibly important ecological function - they can reduce impervious surface and can be used as bioswales or rain gardens to improve drainage efficiency and reduce the urban heat island. Flood-prone locations such as Bloomingdale could see a huge benefit from such improvements.

by KG on Jan 10, 2014 11:54 am • linkreport

Another idiotic bump-out proposal. These nuisances are a great way for a cyclist to get killed by a side view mirror. These are good for dropping off people, too, and safer than double parking while unloading children or people with limited mobility.

by mphs on Jan 10, 2014 12:21 pm • linkreport

It's amusing how suggested improvements for pedestrians to make conditions safer, allow more visibility by the drivers and the pedestrians at corners that we have a few drivers here crying about "idiotic bumpout proposal" or taking away a couple parking spaces--which isn't necessarily true. Making conditions safer for pedestrians is the right thing to do to make our streets more walkable, our communities more livable. Cars have so much taxpayer money and public space devoted to them it is pathetic. When parking is "free" on the street, it just means the local tax-payers are footing the bill--and there are fewer spaces
available in high demand areas. If the concern of such bumpouts in otherwise parking metered areas is the loss of parking space, there could be a tiny uptick in meter fees (or install meters near bumpouts). Demand management pricing can help to even out demand--AND bring in revenue for the district the meters are in for sidewalk or other streetscape improvements.
Who says they want cars driving fast down their street? as KG points out, there is a traffic calming effect where the drivers making turns can't be as lazy and cut the corner--they will need to square off their turns.
The "right lane on the highway not plowed" example isn't' useful since those cars are likely traveling much faster, and that is a long stretch of asphalt---the sneckdowns are areas where cars *could* drive through for a second, but choose to make less lazy turns and otherwise avoid illegally parking there.
MPHS does make a good point that people on bicycles are also part of traffic and the impact on riding is an important consideration when bumping out a curb to improve pedestrian safety.

Stormwater runoff is another huge benefit to well designed post-sneckdown curb bumpouts.

by Daniel Keough on Mar 15, 2014 12:08 pm • linkreport

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