The #Sneckdown: Winter’s Natural Traffic Calming Effect

WeatherTransportation_SneckdownThis blog post is the first of three in the Trans4M blog series: “Winter Weather & Transportation: Opportunities and Challenges.” Over the next several weeks we will feature weather-related transportation posts to highlight opportunities and challenges that weather presents during a cold and snowy Michigan winter.

First, what exactly is a sneckdown? The term, which combines “snow” and “neck-down,” occurs when neck-downs, or curb extensions that narrow the width of the street at intersections or mid-block, are created with built up snow that remains on the unused area of the road long after a snowfall. These sneckdowns don’t exist because the road isn’t heavily traveled, but because portions of the road are overbuilt, and are often the result of multiple snowfall events and multiple rush hours.

Sneckdowns have been trending in recent weeks as everyone from bloggers in Philadelphia to journalists in the UK have discussed the snow’s calming effect on traffic and its ability to reveal street space that is often unused by cars.  After reading countless stories on the web and witnessing #sneckdown all but trend nationwide on Twitter, we decided it was time to share some of Michigan’s sneckdowns with you here and highlight how snow naturally makes the case for better street design.


A major sneckdown situation along Washtenaw Avenue in Pittsfield Township

The above photo highlights a portion of busy Washtenaw Avenue, a five-lane, 45 mile-per-hour, heavily traveled automobile and public transit corridor that connects Ypsilanti to Ann Arbor. In most areas, including the area shown above near Golfside Road, Washtenaw Avenue a scary place for pedestrians with a left turn lane that runs almost its entire length. However, as you can see in orange, the snow that remains on the road highlights that in most areas, the road could be both narrowed and the left turn lane could be eliminated. In this case, a designated bus lane, bike lanes, or pedestrian refuge zones would make great use of that extra space and improve safety for the many daily pedestrian and public transit commuters along the corridor.

A stroll through downtown Lansing also reveals multiple sneckdowns that act as curb extensions (also called pedestrian bump-outs or bulb-outs). These work to both slow traffic and create a shorter crossing distance for pedestrians. Even in an area that is relatively pedestrian-friendly, sneckdowns, again highlighted in orange, reveal plenty of room for improvement.

Lansing- Ottowa and Walnut

A serious sneckdown in Lansing at the intersection of Ottawa and Walnut

 Lansing- Ottowa and Capitol

This sneckdown in Lansing at the intersection of Ottawa and Capitol extends almost 12 feet into the street!

In the photo below, taken in a large intersection in Canton surrounded by housing, churches and retail, a sneckdown provides a glimpse into how a raised right turn island could shift both driver and pedestrian behavior. Although they may seem insignificant, raised traffic islands can slow down traffic and increase safety and comfort for pedestrians.


A Sneckdown in Canton at the intersection of Warren and Sheldon

After last night’s snowfall, traffic patterns today will undoubtedly highlight sneckdowns in communities across Michigan – notice how these patterns of snow both decrease traffic speeds and create safer environments for pedestrians. Sneckdowns provide a glimpse of what smarter street design looks like and prove that many of our streets and intersections are over-engineered for automobiles and under-engineered for pedestrians.

Join the conversation: share your sneckdown photos on Facebook and Twitter using #sneckdown and enjoy this positive side-effect of a seriously snowy winter. Check out other Michigan #sneckdown photos on Lansing Westside’s Facebook page (photoshopped by Redhead Design Studio). 


Written by Liz Treutel, Trans4M Fellow


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