The first time I heard the term ‘Snowy Neckdown’ was some four years ago from my girlfriend at the time who’d just graduated with a masters in urban planning from Portland State University. Years later, the term has come to be abbreviated as ‘Sneckdown’ – and with a recent boost from Streetfilms, social media savants, and shifting weather patterns, the term is helping people discover just how much urban space automobiles actually waste in a city.
Essentially, after snow begins melting, the places where cars don’t actually drive is revealed by the un-melted snow. What could be space used by people is revealed to be needlessly purposed for traffic. These spaces could easily be transformed into public plazas or at the least, pedestrian islands. On the heels of the sneckdown media blitz today, I thought I’d bike out to two intersections set to receive temporary makeovers later this year by the group Better Block PDX.
The first was close to home. Where Sandy blvd meets 7th ave and crosses Washington ave sits a mess of an intersection. Despite this being a place with much foot traffic, there are no markings or signals for people to cross this extremely wide intersection at all. See for yourself . The snow shows the vast expanse of distance pedestrians must cover. This combined with the blind change of angle for moving vehicles creates a dangerous place for people.
It’s easy to see this space is heavily used by people on foot. This intersection is directly between my home and my local grocer. Often I’ve seen people waiting for long periods of time to cross, or worse, tempt fate and try to dash between the racing cars. Even looking north on 7th ave where traffic is much calmer you can see the absurdity of having a space this wide solely for motor vehicles.
Next, I biked to the far more hospitable intersection of SE 26th and Clinton street, which is part of Portland’s bike boulevard or ‘Neighborhood Greenway‘ network. Still, it was evident how much space we’re ceding to traffic without cause. In front of the Clinton Street Theater there’s a stop sign for east bound traffic, yet there is also a curved turning lane which seems designed purely to allow drivers to blow through the stop, something I witnessed several motorists do here. This space was supposed to have had the curb extended out years ago as part of a PBOT street revamp plan, but this never happened due to a lack of funds.
From the other side of the intersection, a bus didn’t even come close to touching this sneckdown while easily completing a left turn.
Facing east, the other curved-out turn lane seemed hardly used at all. What’s more, while viewing the same space looking west, I noticed a man spontaneously use the sneckdown as a pedestrian island, waiting there safely for a moment until traffic cleared.
All this goes to show much more of a functional city we could have without having to spend much money at all. All we need is the proper understanding of how traffic limits social space and the will to start designing streets for people.
See you in the streets.