Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Unplowed Snow Reveals Overbuilt Streets

"Sneckdowns," or snow neck downs, show how to redesign city streets to benefit all.

By - Jan 5th, 2016 02:52 pm

Who knew that snow storms could be an urban planning aid? Turns out that plowed intersections are actually very illustrative, showing us what’s needed road space, and what’s not. Often there are unplowed areas, dubbed “sneckdowns” by Streetsblog founder Aaron Naparstek, that serve as curb extensions. Sneckdowns, or snow neckdowns, are natural traffic calming devices, as well as extensions of the sidewalk. Most importantly, sneckdowns serve as free trials of what would happen if intersections were reconstructed.

Following Milwaukee’s latest snow storm, I began looking for them along my regular walking routes. Two substantial sneckdowns were immediately visible at the intersections of N. Farwell Ave. and E. Kane Pl. and N. Prospect Ave. and E. Irving Pl. Why were they so large? Those intersections are where a one-way street intersects with another one-way street. Because vehicles cannot turn in every direction, there is plenty of extra space. The Department of Public Works, which needs to get snow plowed as quickly as possible, understandably doesn’t waste its time plowing these unused spaces.

What can be done with these unused spaces? The city could add a parking space and an extension of the curb. The only loser will be the asphalt industry. Drivers will get more on-street parking, which is harder to find during the winter. Pedestrians will get shorter street crossings. Cyclists will get longer bicycle lanes. Put one at the intersection of N. Farwell Ave. and E. Irving Pl. and Comet Cafe could even double their amount of sidewalk seating.

A Reimagined N. Farwell Ave. and E. Kane Pl.

A Reimagined N. Farwell Ave. and E. Kane Pl.

Where else could this be done? Any three-way intersection is a great candidate. Look at the south side of the intersection of N. Broadway and E. Menomonee St. in the Historic Third Ward. A curb extension shrinks the size of the three-way intersection, eliminating the unused space. One Google Maps user even has a photo of it as it looks with fresh snow, showing it as a sneckdown.

N. Broadway and E. Menomonee St.

N. Broadway and E. Menomonee St.

What potential redesigns lurk in your neighborhood?

Categories: Eyes on Milwaukee

8 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Unplowed Snow Reveals Overbuilt Streets”

  1. Casey says:

    I think this is the second winter I’ve seen this issue on Urban Milwaukee and really enjoy it. If only Milwaukee and Wisconsin planners/designers would take note.

  2. Isral DeBruin says:

    Super interesting points. I’ve never really thought about this (the snow indicating which spots of the road are “truly” utilized), but as you state, it’s a great way to see what we’re using and what it would look like if we built the intersection differently.

  3. AG says:

    When did Kane change to a one way??

  4. AG says:

    Oh, I’ll also point out though that this isn’t completely the case… sometimes because of the poorly plowed roads cars will drive in a fashion that is not the norm and often illegal. But I can see the point made here in some cases.

  5. @AG – It’s a west-bound one-way from Summit (eastern terminus) to Cambridge. I can’t speak to how long that has been, but at least since I moved to Prospect Ave in 2009.

  6. Allison says:

    The plow job by the City of Milwaukee was awful-what a disaster

  7. Nate says:

    Another good example of overbuilt road infrastructure, illustrated by snow plow, is street width. For example, Van Buren Street between Brady and Ogden (recently repaved in its current configuration) is two traffic lanes wide in each direction, with additional parking space next to the curb. After the recent snow, parked vehicles have invaded the outside traffic lane with no apparent ill effect. Eliminating the additional asphalt (by widening the sidewalks, adding trees or other vegetation, installing a median, etc.) would have go a long way towards turning that area into an integrated, pedestrian friendly, neighborhood.

  8. AG says:

    Jeramey, I had a brain fart and was thinking of Royal.

    As a side thought… if we narrow a road, say Van Buren in Nate’s case… and Milwaukee still does a terrible job plowing… what road is left at that point?

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