Urban Glossary: Sneckdowns
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Urban Glossary: Sneckdowns

You know when snowbanks push out the curb from the sidewalk? That has a name, and tells us something about how we can plan our intersections.

An overhead photo at Dufferin and Liberty.

Much to the dismay of many, winter has finally arrived in Toronto. But the blankets of snow which cloak our city can reveal some interesting things if you know where and how to look. Snow holds an imprint of the tires of every vehicle that drives over it. It lets us visualize where people drive and where they don’t, creating a phenomenon urbanists refer to as the ‘sneckdown’.

‘Sneckdown’ is a portmanteau of ‘snow’ and ‘neckdown’. ‘Neckdown’ is urban planning jargon for a curb extension, where the road is narrowed to calm traffic, usually at an intersection or a pedestrian crossing. The snow part of sneckdown comes from the way snow on the ground shows where the road is—and isn’t—used. Whenever you see a snowbank on the road, imagine a curb extension in its place. These snowy curb extensions are extra space, which could be re-purposed for all sorts of things: sidewalks, plazas, greenery, bike infrastructure, you name it!

Ossington and Foxley. The orange line marks the curb.

Toronto’s generous lanes and corners leave sneckdowns all over the city. Once you know what to look for, you can’t stop seeing them, and people post photos of them on social media with the hashtag #sneckdown. If you want to see them in action, there are also videos available to watch.

College and Beverly.

Sneckdowns give us a sneak preview of what a different streetscape could look like. It’s one that still accommodates the needs of drivers, but offers a safer, more pedestrian-friendly and livable city where people drive a bit slower, and enjoy their streets.

Iain Campbell started the Toronto Sneckdown Blog last winter to catalogue sneckdowns around the city and inspire Toronto to make better use of urban space. If you see a sneckdown this winter, feel free to snap some photos and send them in.

All photos by Iain Campbell.