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Thursday, February 9, 2017

What's a sneckdown and what does it teach us about Pittsburgh road design?

Posted By on Thu, Feb 9, 2017 at 12:39 PM

click to enlarge Sneckdown on Friendship Avenue in Bloomfield - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Sneckdown on Friendship Avenue in Bloomfield
What the heck is a sneckdown? A neckdown is a traffic-calming design (like a curb bump-out) that is meant to slow down drivers. Combine neckdown with snow and you get sneckdown.

After snowfalls, Pittsburghers can see sneckdowns just about everywhere they look, since there are plenty of places where snow falls on the street that cars don’t drive over. Sometimes these untouched snow patches are as small as a kite, but other times they are as large as an above-ground swimming pool.

Eric Boerer, of Bike Pittsburgh, says they illustrate exactly how much extra space is given to vehicles on Pittsburgh streets.

“The clear thing is that they show a lot of unused road space,” says Boerer. “And this is one of the big issues we have in such a tight city.”

Boerer says some of the most egregious sneckdowns occur in Bloomfield. He points to the intersection of Liberty Avenue and the Bloomfield Bridge, and spaces around Friendship Park, as an areas where snow highlights a lot of unused square footage. He believes this unused space provides strong arguments that sidewalks can be made larger and bike paths can be installed, even if the city has a sometime contentious relationship with winter bike riders.

Bike Pittsburgh does a lot of outreach to teach Pittsburgh residents about smart road design that can accommodate cars, bicycles and pedestrians equally. (This concept is known as complete streets.) Boerer says normally groups like Bike Pittsburgh would have to set up physical objects and staff in sections of roads to prove roads can be designed differently, but sneckdowns accomplish that work for them.

“It is almost like a real-time [road design] experiment,” says Boerer. “It proves your point without doing an intervention. It can reveal a lot about how motorists are using the streets.”

Sneckdowns can also reveal other uses for wasted space on road. Boerer says sneckdowns at the intersection on Schenley Drive (near the Schenley Park visitor center) reveal ample space that could be used for green space, like grass or bushes. He says this could help mitigate stormwater issues that occur often in Oakland and Four Mile Run in Greenfield.

Boerer says sneckdowns are well known in the bike-ped advocacy community and by city planners, but there have been no street redesigns in Pittsburgh as a result of sneckdowns as in New York City and Philadelphia. But, he is hopeful that will change considering Pittsburgh’s growing interest in road design with the city’s formation of the Complete Streets Advisory Council.

“Right not there is a lot of momentum on complete streets,” Boerer says. “Sneckdowns are part of that. [They are] a great way to visualize these traffic calming ideas.”

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