The storm that recently buried the Washington metropolitan area made traveling a mess, but the snow can illustrate how planners could design safer streets.
The aftermath of the Feb. 13 storm provided a template for possible street improvements by creating “snow neckdowns,” or as they became known on Twitter, #dcsneckdown.
“A neckdown is an urban planning-transportation term that basically means taking a street that is pretty wide for car travel and making it a little bit narrower to encourage traffic to flow a little bit more slowly and make more space for bicyclists and pedestrians,” said Mary Lauran Hall, a spokeswoman for the Alliance for Biking and Walking, a national advocacy group, in an interview atop a snow bank at the corner of K and 16th Streets NW.
The paths taken by cars carefully navigating snow-clogged avenues revealed what curbs might look like, or where bike lanes and pedestrian plazas could be placed if streets were to be remade to accommodate travelers not in vehicles.
“The snow reveals all these little slivers and fractions of space that could be devoted to public space for walking, for pedestrian refuges, for protected bike lanes, for bulb-outs, so that a sidewalk becomes wider and the crosswalk becomes narrower and it is easier to cross the street,” Hall said. “There is a lot of space that goes unused and that is revealed when you have snow that is untrodden by tires.”
Thinking about “sneckdowns” is not just a fun exercise, Hall said.
“When you look at complete streets policies — which say when you build a new street or when you change an existing street you accommodate equally for drivers, for pedestrians, for bicyclists and for transit users – you can take spaces where snow has piled up but traffic has still been able to move freely.”
The group Smart Growth America released its analysis of the cities and towns that have approved complete streets policies. More than 600 jurisdictions have such policies, including the District of Columbia.