No matter how you get to where you’re going in a busy city, nothing slows things down—or brings them to a halt—quite like a blizzard.


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This most recent reminder of this for city dwellers in the Northeast was winter storm Jonas, which dropped over two feet of snow on the streets of New York City.

For drivers, it can be a major inconvenience and slow goings. For pedestrians, it can mean slippery sidewalks and a wet, slushy walk, but it could also make the city just a little bit safer.

That’s because snow accumulation, and the pileup that results from plows pushing it aside, may give us a look at the design of city streets that are safer to those on foot.

Credit: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin.

The “Sneckdown” Effect
Snow buildup isn’t ideal when you’re trying to cross a city street, board a bus, or navigate sidewalks that are crowded on a clear day, but it does manage to extend the curb. Wired refers to this as “sneckdown”, a merging of “snow” and “neckdown,” in their recent examination of snow and urban design.

The piles of snow that jut out from the curb cause traffic to slow down and tighten their turns into an intersection.

The effect mitigates the likelihood of cars encountering pedestrians as they enter the crosswalk, which according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials most frequently happens at the corners of an intersection.

As the snow piles gradually melt away, the effect goes with it, but some think that curb extensions should be a permanent part of major cities.

Credit: Richard Drdul

Seeking A Year-Round Solution
Pedestrian safety groups have advocated for curb extensions as simple means of making sidewalks and street crossings considerably safer those on foot. However, this simple adjustment amounts to a pretty major shift in city infrastructure.

That means new planning, regulation, and costs. Some have said that a better and easier solution is using temporary means of curb extensions, like removable barriers, planters, and bollards to do a year-round job and serve to reduce pedestrian injury and death.

What are your thoughts on curb extensions and the way snow affects urban design—for better and worse?

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