Public planners studying street traffic patterns have long known that the wider the street, the more likely drivers are to speed and drive recklessly. This winter, many of them are tweeting photos of the patterns cars have left in the snow, revealing spaces where sidewalks could be widened, making it easier for pedestrians to cross the street and enhancing driver safety. The patterns are called “sneckdowns”—a combination of the words “snowy” and “neckdowns,” curb extensions that can calm traffic.
The piles of snow are keeping drivers from attempting aggressive passing maneuvers, just as wider sidewalks would if they were built. Planners in favor of these curb extensions point to the photos to show that drivers aren’t using these swaths of street anyway, so why not widen the sidewalk there? In other words, these annoying snowstorms are creating a free way to study traffic patterns to guide future street planning.
Philadelphia has already implemented this idea, widening sidewalks based on snow patterns in 2011. Prema Gupta, the director of planning for Philly’s University City District, told Angie Schmitt of Streetsblog USA that snow pattern photos “quickly made the case that there’s right-sizing to do here. For us it was just a really compelling way of showing there was way too much street and not nearly enough place for people.” So these relentless snowstorms that have made much of the country difficult to traverse this winter just might help everyone’s commute become easier in the future.
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