Can Snow Inspire Better Streets? It Already Has.

Before
In Philadelphia, a snowy neckdown at Baltimore and 48th Street in 2011 inspired permanent upgrades to the pedestrian environment at the intersection. Photo courtesy of Prema Bupta

Sneckdowns are having a big moment. In case you’ve missed the viral blog posts and major press coverage, sneckowns (a contraction of “snowy neckdowns” popularized by Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson Jr. and Streetsblog founding editor Aaron Naparstek) are leftover snow piles on city streets that show space that could easily be reclaimed for pedestrians.

As a visual tool, sneckdowns can be powerful. At least one city has already used snow formations as the inspiration for better streets.

After a winter storm in Philadelphia in 2011, snow piles became the basis for a major pedestrian upgrade at Baltimore and 48th Street in the University City District, according to Prema Gupta, the district’s director of planning.

Gupta said her organization, inspired by New York City’s example, was already looking around for potential spaces for pedestrian plazas when a staffer produced the above photo. “That very quickly made the case that there’s right-sizing to do here,” she said. At the time, no one had heard the word “sneckdown.”

“For us it was just a really compelling way of showing there was way too much street and not nearly enough place for people,” she said.

Based on the snow patterns, the city produced a plan to expand pedestrian space at the intersection:

The plans

The final design was implemented this summer:

The finished result

After the recent snow storms this year, Gupta says, her organization has continued to search for unnecessary pavement “because it’s so obvious that there’s need here.”

It’s possible that we’ll soon be hearing similar stories from places all over the United States. Public officials in places like Raleigh and Boulder are getting in on the #sneckdown hashtag, soliciting sites for potential road diets via social media. Chances are, there are plenty of good examples of this wherever you live. It’s definitely worth Tweeting at or emailing your your photos of #sneckdowns to local officials.

  • Andy

    Not that it’s particularly important, but the picture is 48th and Baltimore, not 38th.

  • Thanks! Corrected.

  • Chris J.

    I wonder if there’s some sort of surface treatment that can be applied to asphalt near an intersection to get this same information for areas or seasons where it doesn’t snow. It can be something that responds to pressure or wear in a way that can be measured more obviously than natural road wear — perhaps some kind of neutral-colored biodegradable paint that wears away more quickly. Is something like that out there?

  • Hart Noecker

    Sneckdown’s a plenty in Portland, OR yesterday: http://rebelmetropolis.org/sneckdown-city/

  • This is my new favorite #sneckdown story.

  • Reader

    Flour.

  • Clarence

    Hart, I have been gathering a lot of links in the comments of my original article just to have a place where there are for someday when Encyclopedia Brittanica wants to see the begins of sneckdown. 🙂 Yours in there. http://www.streetfilms.org/the-complete-origin-of-the-sneckdown/

  • If Philly is still looking for “unnecessary pavement,” here’s an amazing wealth of fabulous sneckdown photos ALL FROM ONE STREET in South Philly. http://thisoldcity.com/advocacy/photos-what-snow-tells-us-about-creating-better-public-spaces-e-passyunk-avenue

  • DA

    Fleckdowns!

  • AlexHirsch

    Never thought I’d say this, but it’s too bad it doesn’t snow here in Los Angeles.

  • Justin

    You can also say the same where I live in San Francisco, where this is so badly needed especially with the unprecedented amount of pedestrian vs car collisions we’ve had in the past year

  • Just in case you missed the first link in the article. 😉

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