Sneckdowns: Taking the World by Storm

Image: Clarence Eckerson/BBC
Image: Clarence Eckerson/BBC

The #sneckdown is now a phenomenon, with nature’s traffic-calming gaining international media coverage and photos popping up from across the U.S. and Canada.

“The snow is almost like nature’s tracing paper,” Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson told the BBC. “It’s free. You don’t have to do a crazy expensive traffic calming study. It provides a visual cue into how people behave.”

The sneckdown dates back to at least 2001, when Transportation Alternatives wrote: “[T]he next time someone tells you that you can’t have a neckdown on that corner or this corner because there’s not enough room, show them what happens every year when it snows.”

Clarence first documented “naturally occurring neckdowns” for Streetfilms in 2006. Seven years later, Streetsblog founding editor Aaron Naparstek coined the hashtag, and the rest is history.

Here are pics from yesterday’s storm. Keep ’em coming.

Seventh Avenue and 36th Street. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/Tri_State/status/425706540423991297##@Tri_State##
Seventh Avenue and 36th Street. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/Tri_State/status/425706540423991297##@Tri_State##

The Bowery. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/christamaeorth/status/425742294177034240##@christamaeorth##
The Bowery. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/christamaeorth/status/425742294177034240##@christamaeorth##
181st Street and Cabrini Boulevard. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/UptownCurrent/status/425718871765823488##@UptownCurrent##
181st Street and Cabrini Boulevard. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/UptownCurrent/status/425718871765823488##@UptownCurrent##
Broadway at 111th Street. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/glenn_mcan/status/426002518418939905##@glenn_mcan##
Broadway at 111th Street. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/glenn_mcan/status/426002518418939905##@glenn_mcan##
  • An excellent story from Brad hitting all the historical notes and references I can recall. Thanks. Now as the phone calls continue for follow up stories, I can refer them here to get the gist before I return them. 🙂 The only things I can add is that Doug Gordon/Brooklyn Spoke has been keeping the tradition alive the last few Winters by spreading the word on his blog. And also I have a couple older traffic planners over the years tell me they have used the phenomenon of snow to demonstrate certain transportation concepts.

    Funny thing is that the 2nd film I did was 3 years ago. But each winter the legend grows and more people watch and get inspired. Since December, over 2K of the videos 7K plays have occurred.

  • And today, the sneckdowns will be more visible as asphalt becomes more apparent. I really like this one from DC: https://twitter.com/imagineterrain/status/425725317165359104/photo/1

  • Bobberooni

    Don’t forget, sneckdowns are hazardous for bicycles. The single most important thing for safe biking is ample space on the street. Many of the snow-covered areas are essential for biking during normal times.

  • All the snow is dangerous for biking. When you would want to design an appropriate curb extension you would never put it in the pathway of a bike lane.

  • Bobberooni

    Uhh… most neckdowns I’ve seen create hazards for bikes at intersections.

  • Jonathan R

    I bicycled this morning and there was plenty of room on the street: in the ordinary travel lane.

    It is my considered opinion that weaving around trying to get from one lesser-used area of the street to another is counterproductive, as it makes the cyclist less predictable to others.

  • Reader

    You can create curb extensions or ped refuges and still have a bike lane. Many of the protected bike lanes on Manhattan Avenues work in exactly that fashion.

  • I’d like to see a photo where a curb extension has ever created a hazard for a bike. Neckdowns traditionally aren’t allowed to be any wider than the parking lane. Therefore bikes wouldn’t use any of that space. Unless it is a protected bike lane like in NYC, where they would create a ped island.

  • Reader

    There’s no conflict between class 2 bike lanes and neckdowns since, as you said, they aren’t any wider than the pre-existing parking lane.

    Neckdowns can also be used as gateways to neighborhood greenways where no actual bike lane is present and cyclists can ride anywhere with either slow moving car traffic or no cars at all.

    Bikes and neckdowns are not mutually exclusive.

  • Joe R.

    I tend to think neckdowns make things safer for bicycles by increasing lines of sight at intersections. In fact, often neckdowns can improve lines of sight so much that you can replace traffic lights with stop or yield signs. Even if you can’t get rid of the traffic light, neckdowns let you shave time off the pedestrian crossing interval by shrinking the crosswalk by about 20 feet. Shorter red light cycles certainly benefit cyclists.

    The only downside to neckdowns for cyclists might be that they make right turns slower because you’re forced to turn at a sharper radius (as opposed to starting/ending a turn to the left of the parking lane but hitting the corner at the apex of the turn). I personally couldn’t care less about taking ~2 seconds longer to turn right given the other advantages of neckdowns.

  • Bobberooni

    Do you drive a bike? I’ve seen too many neckdowns that force bikes to merge in with the rest of the traffic at the intersection. Without the neckdown, the merge would not be necessary.

  • Joe R.

    I’m thinking solely of the type of neckdowns which just come out as far as the parking lane. I absolutely agree with you than any neckdowns which force cyclists to merge with traffic are dangerous.

  • Really good one. And now people have been drawing in exactly where curb extension would go!
    https://twitter.com/nelszzp/status/426095677328728064/photo/1

  • Bicyclebelle

    I suggest a look at Delancey. At least some of the neckdowns extend past the parked cars and block the space a typical cyclist travels along, forcing him/her to swerve out into traffic. I still support these neckdowns as pedestrians need all the help they can get on Delancey.

  • SteveVaccaro

    Related: Took a few short trips by Citibike today, observed about 5 different stations in lower Manhattan. Not a single one had a bike with snow accumulated on it. No doubt usage is off in the cold & inclement weather, but clearly the bikes are getting used even with significant snow on the roads.

    Compare residential neighborhoods throughout the city were the parking lanes are lined with snow-encrusted cars–taking up space, impeding snow removal, and providing no transportation utility to anyone. Another reason bikeshare is a superior urban transport option compared to private car ownership

  • Joe R.

    I’ll also add that I’ve yet to see a bike get stuck in snow and require rescue by the NYPD or FDNY. Bikes just work, regardless of the weather.

  • JamesR

    They may be a superior option for in-city transport within flat areas of the city, but those 40lb tanks aren’t viable in sections of the city with hilly topography, nor are they viable for trips out of the city. In these areas, owning one’s own bike and, in some cases, one’s own car is still the way to go. I reverse commute out the burbs where it’s a necessity much of the time, not just an option.

  • John Pelletier

    Of course knowing Cambridge it is likely on the list for curb extensions and raised crossing already! There is a school just visible down the way (colored mural) so would be perfect!

  • StepUpAndSaySomething

    James, i know what you mean about bike share bikes being heavy, but they are still very useful in hilly areas, sometimes even more then owning your own bike. You can decide to take alternative transportation, like a bus or subway, in one direction and take the bike share in the other direction. It causes some rebalancing issues, but those get worked out as the system matures. And the very low gear combined with doing it every day will really help you climb those hills after a while, which is a great feeling.

    You’re also right that you’re not supposed to take them out of the city. For those trips it’s best to take a train, especially if the place you’re going to has a bike share also. If we all work to get the public transit and bike share running in the berbs, then you’ll have to drive less and can enjoy the commute more.

  • Joe R.

    For what it’s worth, streets with gradients in excess of 8 to 10% aren’t very common. In fact, I rarely encounter gradients much over 4%, even out here in fairly hilly eastern Queens. I have no idea what the low gear on a Citibike is, but I know all three gears are pretty low given that the top speed at a furious cadence isn’t much over ~20 mph according to some people here. Certainly the low gear should be adequate for anything but the worst gradients.

    That said, of course I would prefer my own bike on anything but the shortest trips. The weight and low gearing on Citibikes would tend to make a longer trip a chore at best.

  • Bobberooni

    Without a neckdown, you can make right turns like you drive onto a freeway. Turn right into the parking lane, gain some speed, and merge left into the travel lane when safe. If you can’t merge, you can always stop behind the first parked car. None of this is possible with a neckdown.

    Also, you’d be surprised at how many intersections have neckdowns, in spite of no bike lanes or inadequate bike lanes. The neckdowns force bikes to ride closer to cars through the intersection, and remove possible routes of escape in case of emergency.

  • Bobberooni

    The first picture above is case in point about how neckdowns can be bad for bikes. Note the truck tire trackes in the snow. In order for a bike to avoid the truck, it would have had to be riding even further over to the side — smack in the middle of the neckdown. Neckdowns make it harder for bikes to avoid trucks, which can take up a surprising amount of room when turning.

  • Without the merge, there will be right hooks.

  • Bobberooni

    I suppose you’re right, that someone will get right-hooked. OTOH, I believe it would be worthwhile to educate bikers on how to avoid right hooks. The simple rule is… don’t go through the intersection immediately to the right of a car. Go through inbetween cars, even if you are not traveling in the same lane as them.

    Also, this does not apply for intersections where the cross street is one-way to the left.

  • sammy davis jr jr

    Sure, but does the public have to give you 85 sq ft of public space for free or subsidized parking?

  • bugleg

    I would have agreed with you…but I’ve seen 3 CitiBikes @ Woodhaven and Metropolitan in Queens–some 6 miles away from the nearest dock, with some serious hills in between. I think these bikes would be very popular all over NYC.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Bike lanes should cross neckdowns.

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