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The Power of the Sneckdown

Story By Arian Horbovetz.  Arian is a Rochester resident and creator of The Urban Phoenix, a blog that discusses urban and community design and topics as our cities transition to a better future.

As I write this, the city of Rochester is passively preparing for yet another battle with a dreaded but familiar foe, lake effect snow.  Winter boots and labored commutes will surely be the icebreaker (pun intended) conversation starters at the office water cooler today. But for the Urban Planner, as well as the casual observer, periods of light snow can be opportunities for great discovery.

In that time when the first whispers of a snow storm cover our streets and the plows are still dormant in their stalls, we navigate our vehicles on roadways by following the tracks left behind by the cars that recently came before us.  To an Urban Planner, these tracks, especially with regard to their path through intersections, are of particular importance.

The ability to see the space that cars use (or rather don’t use) when traveling through an intersection by looking at these tracks through the snow gives us a golden opportunity to demonstrate how and where our streets can be narrowed.  Think of it like an Urban Planner’s forensic blacklight, revealing the key unseen evidence of superfluous roadway.

These visual clues created by snow and tire tracks through our intersections are called Sneckdowns.  While the name might conjure the image of a Dr. Seuss character, it is actually derived from the combination of “snow” and “neckdown,” which is a term for sidewalk additives and extensions that reduce traffic speeds and increase pedestrian access.

Photo of Philadelphia Sneckdown

Photo courtesy of Jon Geeting

Photo of Philadelphia Sneckdown

Photo courtesy of Jon Geeting

In 2014, urbanist Jon Geeting authored a Slate article in which he took simple photos of sneckdowns on Philadelphia streets.  His efforts inspired walkability advocates around the world to do the same, but best of all, it led to real change in his own backyard.  

Before Picture. Photo courtesy of Jon Geeting

Jon Geeting’s Sneckdown photo of this intersection paved the way for this concrete island which acts as a traffic calming measure and a pedestrian island for safer crossing. Photo courtesy of Jon Geeting

Clarence Eckerson’s famous STREETFILMS video shows some incredible examples of how overbuilt our streets really are.  With a measuring device and some cold weather grit, Eckerson puts the power of sneckdowns right in front of the viewer, showing how snowbanks that accumulate on city streets can give us a clearer understanding of how to construct and reconstruct our streets going forward.

Why all this fuss about narrowing streets and slowing traffic?  Because decreasing automobile speeds by narrowing lanes and intersections, as well as prioritizing pedestrians, lead to safer, healthier communities.  Furthermore, promoting walkability and pedestrian comfort has been shown to feed economic growth and stability.  

Sneckdowns also give the average citizen the ability to see where change can be enacted.  It doesn’t take a traffic engineer to spot tracks in the snow, it takes a conscious observer who is genuinely concerned about safety and walkability in their environments.  

Hey Rochester!  Next time it snows, take to the streets and see if you can spot overbuilt space on our roads and intersections.  It can be a fun, interesting and positive way to start the conversation about safer streets in your neighborhood, and may even lead to the change we want to see!

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Sidewalk Snow Removal: How Are We Doing in Monroe County?

Story by: David Riley
A Rochester resident and a former journalist, David is completing a master’s degree in urban planning at the University at Buffalo…

Winter sidewalk. Rochester NY.

For tens of thousands of Monroe County residents, a sidewalk isn’t just a convenience. It’s a vital connection to the world.

Nearly 12,000 people here walk to their jobs, U.S. Census data shows. Another 13,000 walk to and from bus stops in order to take public transportation to work, including as many as 1 in 3 workers in some city neighborhoods. Many people also rely on sidewalks to get to and from school, medical appointments or grocery stores, much less to go for a jog or walk the dog.

So for many people, it isn’t simply an annoyance if part of a sidewalk turns into a snowdrift during the winter. It’s a disruption that forces people going about daily routines to wade through snow or take a dangerous chance and walk in the street. For people with disabilities, a snowy sidewalk can make a usually simple outing impossible.

Yet keeping sidewalks clear is not always a priority for municipalities in the Northeast and Midwest. The City of Rochester does more than many other Snow Belt cities. While property owners here are responsible for clearing adjacent sidewalks of snow and ice, the city also provides supplemental sidewalk plowing anytime it snows at least 4 inches. The program has drawn some interest in recent years from Buffalo and Syracuse, neither of which generally plow sidewalks beyond public buildings. A handful of local suburbs also provide some municipal sidewalk plowing, including Greece and Irondequoit. Read more

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Snow Down on North Clinton!

Join the volunteers at Reconnect Rochester and Flower City AmeriCorps for The Great Rochester Snow Down.
Posted by: Mike Governale, president and co-founder of Reconnect Rochester

Volunteers from Reconnect Rochester and Flower City AmeriCorps are teaming up to clear snow from bus stops and crosswalks in various Rochester neighborhoods this winter. We’re calling it The Great Rochester Snow Down external link and we could use your help on Saturday 1/23…

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Grab Your Shovel; The Great Rochester Snow Down Begins

Join the volunteers at Reconnect Rochester and Flower City AmeriCorps for The Great Rochester Snow Down.
Posted by: Mike Governale, president and co-founder of Reconnect Rochester

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Record cold temperatures and mountains of snow last year made many of our sidewalks and bus stops inaccessible for weeks at a time. This year, before winter tightens its icy grip, Reconnect Rochester would like to invite you to help us defend our streets by taking part in The Great Rochester Snow Down external link.

Every other Saturday from January 9 – March 6, volunteers from Reconnect Rochester and Flower City AmeriCorps will gather together along one major avenue in our area to clear snow from bus stops and crosswalks…

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Finding a Solution for Sidewalk Clearing in Rochester

Sidewalk off Mt. Hope [Photo: Brenda Massie]
Posted by: board member Renee Stetzer, pedestrian safety advocate and blogger at RocVille.com

It’s been a tough winter for anyone having to be outside in Rochester. Transit riders have to hike over ice encrusted snow drifts and stand in streets, because their stops are buried. Pedestrians have to wear crampons to trudge across the uneven icy places where sidewalks once were. Those who are less steady, have things to carry or have to walk with assistance, have been forced to use the plowed streets. Cyclists hold on as they brave traffic, since the bike lanes are no longer there. And drivers cautiously turn corners blocked by snowbanks higher than their cars, taking turns on residential streets with only enough room for one car at a time. But the people walking out in the elements have clearly been given the lowest priority of attention.

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Grab your shovel, it’s time to Reconnect your sidewalk…

Who's responsible for clearing sidewalks of snow? All of us! [PHOTO: gam9551, Flickr]
Posted by: Brenda Massie, Board Member and Secretary, Reconnect Rochester.

Getting around during winter in Rochester is challenging — no matter what mode of transportation you choose. Subzero temperatures, snowy sidewalks, and dangerous street conditions become part of everyday life. As a pedestrian, it is especially hairy…

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