LOGAN SQUARE — While giant piles of snow left on the streets are annoying to some, others are making the most of the "sneckdowns."
The term refers to the snow at intersections left untouched by cars in the road. Transportation aficionados say these odd shapes can reveal clues about how to better use road space that drivers don't seem to need, and in some cases, shorten the distance pedestrians have to cross at intersections.
The idea has blown up recently, perhaps because Mother Nature has provided so many opportunities for sneckdowns to form.
Joe Robinson, a pedestrian advocate with Bike Walk Logan Square took notice of the phenomenon and decided to document Logan Square's own sneckdowns.
"I had heard about it, and heard people talking about it, but I didn't know it had a name," said Robinson. "You can see where the road is being used, and you can see places where the road isn't being used, and so that's extra space that can be used for something else. You can put something pretty in it, or it can be used to do any number of things to make the street safer for pedestrians and safer for drivers."
Aside from cutting the distance pedestrians have to cross at intersections, proponents say curb extensions could also slow down drivers making turns, especially in pedestrian-heavy areas.
"By shrinking the space for drivers, it naturally makes the driver go slower, which is good for drivers, good for pedestrians and good for everybody," he said.
Amanda Woodall, policy director for the Active Transportation Alliance, said she think it's a cool idea, but cautions that it is not an exact science.
"It's a great tool for thinking critically about how space is allocated, but we wouldn't say they're an exact tool for measuring engineering specifications," she said. "You would have a big problem if you didn't have enough room for a car to move without hitting a curb."
Still, she said it does present interesting ideas about roadway design, and she's happy that it's getting people talking.
"I think it's wonderful that so many people are interested and engaged and thinking about the way design impacts their safety," she said. "It's a wonderful conversation starter."
Meanwhile, sneckdowns apparently got some Philadelphia planners doing more than just talking. According to transit blog Streetsblog, sneckdowns left after a 2011 snowstorm culminated in curbs actually being extended at one intersection last summer.
The notion is not confined to snowy climates. Australian road planners reportedly throw down cake flour and then photograph it after letting traffic go by for an hour or so to get the same effect.
As long as snow is plentiful around these parts, though, sneckdown advocates encourage people to take pictures when they see them and tweet the photos to local officials with the #sneckdown hashtag.
"I think what's so interesting about it is, all you have to do is snap a picture, and it's a study," Robinson said. "It's very expensive to do studies to figure out what design would be the best, and this is so simple."