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For Car-Free Advocates, Snow Helped Make A Point About How We Use Roads

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At this "sneckdown" — located at 17th Street and Potomac Avenue SE — the snow shows parts of the roadway not used by cars and that could be replaced with a wider sidewalk, bike lane or plaza.
Justin Antos
At this "sneckdown" — located at 17th Street and Potomac Avenue SE — the snow shows parts of the roadway not used by cars and that could be replaced with a wider sidewalk, bike lane or plaza.

The storm that buried the Washington metropolitan area on Feb. 13 made traveling a mess, but bike and pedestrian advocates say there is another way of looking at the snow since plowed into piles at street corners that could benefit urban planners.

The aftermath of the storm provided a template for improved streetscapes 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 the snow-clogged avenues and the plowing of the snowfall revealed what curbs might look like or where bike lanes and pedestrian plazas might 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.

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