It’s extremely rare for Auckland to get snow and even if it does happen, it would never be heavy enough to give us some sneckdowns. So what is a sneckdown?
It’s a shorter way of saying snowy neckdown and a neckdown is another name for a kerb extension.
Kerb extensions are described well on the Streets wiki as (note: Americans use curb instead of kerb):
Curb extensions are extensions of the curb line into the street, reallocating a portion of street space to pedestrians or ancillary uses. Curb extensions are one of the most effective traffic calming tools, and can be used in a variety of ways, both at corners and mid-block. They can mostly be found in residential neighborhoods and downtown commercial areas. Also known as bulbouts, popouts, or neckdowns, curb extensions increase drivers’ awareness of pedestrians, decrease crossing distance, reduce pedestrian exposure to traffic, and reduce traffic speeds. They are also referred to as neckdowns because they create a narrowing of the street at intersections or midblock.
Studies show curb extensions combined with a marked crosswalk increases yielding of vehicles to pedestrians waiting to cross the street.  Curb extensions also have a number of other purposes:
- Providing a prominent area for landscaping, public art, lighting fixtures, or freestanding A-frame signs.
- Providing an area for newspaper vending boxes. Cities or merchants sometimes want to remove vending boxes to de-clutter the sidewalk, but newspaper boxes are protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and must be accommodated. A large bulbout can provide a good compromise location.
- Corner bulbouts carefully constructed to neckdown a street also eliminate high speed turning movements (particularly right turns), increasing safety for all users of the street.
- Providing protection for vehicles parked behind the bulbout.
- Providing an area for street trees, other landscaping, or a groundwater recharge area, also known as a “bioswale“
We actually have a few kerb extensions in Auckland, for example there was one in the Lorne St photo yesterday but they are not widespread. Where they do exist they are usually added as part of a wider streetscape upgrade. I think AT should be looking to roll this type of treatment out across a wide area of Auckland as they can be great for slowing cars down in residential areas however if they were to do that I could see them being forced into conducting numerous traffic studies, multiple rounds of consultation and subject to protest from some residents and local businesses worried about a loss of on street parking or having to drive slower.
What makes the sneckdown so interesting is it because it is caused by weather it happens without consultation and there is nothing that can be done to stop it. When the snow is ploughed it moves it to the edge of the road where it forms in piles creating temporary kerb extensions that people quickly adapt to. The snow also helps highlight just how much space is on our streets that is generally only used to allow vehicles to corner faster. In effect you could argue that a sneckdown is nature’s way of slowing down traffic and making more pedestrian friendly and liveable streets. Clarence Eckerson Jr who runs the awesome Streetfilms told the BBC “The snow is almost like nature’s tracing paper,” and “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 image below shows helps explain the sneckdown
And here’s a video from a few years ago showing them in action.
I imagine that if Auckland were to get a massive dumping of snow we would see huge numbers of intersections that could be easily narrowed down. As the chance of that happening is remote, perhaps it’s time to start trialling this with traffic cones?