No Comments

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!

8 Comments

Parking vs. Local Independent Business: Zoning Board Meeting Tomorrow

John Ebel, Marc Lebeau, and Brandon Rizzo want to open small coffee shop in Rochester. But parking rules may prevent that from happening.
Three local entrepreneurs want to open small coffee shop in Rochester. But parking rules may prevent that from happening. John Ebel, Marc Lebeau (co-owners of Smokestack Cowork) and Brandon Rizzo plan to open Pour Coffee Parlor external link at 23 Somerton Street external link in the Park Ave / East Ave area, but the City of Rochester contends that there is not enough parking at the location for the City to grant proper zoning to open. The location has 4 parking spots, and the partners have leased 6 more spots from a neighboring business to reach the quota, but that may not be enough…

Read more

2 Comments

Urban Planning and Design; Two Exciting Events

Peter J. Park, Director of Planning, Denver

On January 31, Rochester Regional Community Design Center will present 'Transformation: Don't be Afraid of It,' a talk by Peter Park, planning director for Denver.On Tuesday, January 31, the Rochester Regional Community Design Center external link will present “Transformation: Don’t be Afraid of It,” a talk by Peter Park, planning director for Denver. Peter Park will take us through a genesis of the transformative process in Milwaukee, Wisconsin during the 1990’s where he was a key player in planning and implementing the creation of the River Walk, a downtown revitalization project , for more than a decade.

Read more

1 Comment

Rochester’s Inner Loop Offers a New Shot at Traditional Neighborhood Development

Posted by: Bob Williams

Removing this enormous physical divide from our city's landscape will open up a world of possibilities for the reclaimed land, and the neighborhoods on either side of the rift. A blank canvas if you will. Before we put pencil to paper, let's go over some of the rules for good neighborhood design.Imagine a Rochester without an noose-like expressway dividing downtown-adjacent neighborhoods on the north and east sides. An obstacle to true connectivity for over 50 years, imagine the loop and its ramps filled in to grade instantaneously at the snap of your fingers. Naturally the next question arrives in our minds immediately, ‘How will we utilize this reclaimed real estate?’

Consider the example of Alexandria, Virginia. Originally platted in 1749. Six fundamental tenets of Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) differentiate this inviting river city from generic drivable suburbanism.If the goals are to reconnect severed neighborhood conduits, promote commerce, reduce car dependence, ensure ease of navigation, and foster a dynamic and vibrant streetscape, the answer lies not in a grandiose vision of the future, but more likely in our historic roots.

Consider the example of Alexandria, Virginiaexternal link. Originally platted in 1749 on land donated by Philip and John Alexander, six fundamental tenets of Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) differentiate this inviting river city from generic drivable suburbanism…

Read more

5 Comments

Rochester’s Case for a Streetcar Line

The following article was published at RochesterSubway.com on 2010/02/16. Two weeks later 6 citizens got together and Reconnect Rocheseter was born.

Photo simulation of a new Rochester streetcar on Main Street.

America seems to have taken a renewed interest in mobility. Maybe due to President Obama’s recent commitment to high speed rail—or perhaps the positive results seen in towns like Portland and Denver have caught our collective attention. Whatever the reason, from the top down, people are rethinking our automobile-oriented culture—and getting excited about the possibilities.

There’s also good reason to focus on transportation as a way of jump-starting economic development. Industry requires access to people. And people need to have easy access to centers of employment. Continually improving access makes further development possible. Interrupting access will have the opposite effect. Likewise, doing nothing or simply maintaining existing infrastructure for an extended period of time will also hinder development.

For 30+ years Rochester has relied on the infrastructure choices it made in the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s. At that time we made development choices that encouraged our population to emigrate from the downtown core. We scrapped our extensive streetcar system, choked off downtown with the construction of the inner-loop, and paved super highways to take us from the city to the NY State Thruway and beyond. Since then that’s exactly where our money, our workforce, and our future have gone—down I-490 and out of state.

Read more