Eyes on the Street: The Union Station Sneckdown — Let’s Make It Permanent

The southeast corner of Canal and Adams has greater than average pedestrian traffic but an abnormally narrow sidewalk, despite a recent road repaving.
The southeast corner of Canal and Adams has a lot of pedestrian traffic but an abnormally narrow sidewalk. As the sneckdown shows, there’s plenty of room for more sidewalk space. Photos: Shaun Jacobsen

A snowy neckdown — or “sneckdown” — is that place in the roadway where the snow sticks around because no one drives over it. Sneckdowns show where there’s too much asphalt that could easily be claimed for pedestrian space and traffic calming.

As Angie Schmitt reported for Streetsblog USA, officials in Philadelphia were inspired by a sneckdown to make permanent sidewalk expansions at one intersection. Chicago could do the same in hundreds of locations. Here’s one…

Shaun Jacobsen, a Streetsblog contributor, commutes via Union Station and photographed this sneckdown at Canal Street and Adams Street, where there’s a lot of pedestrian traffic but an abnormally narrow sidewalk. But when the corner was repaved in 2013, the sidewalk wasn’t modified.

Canal Street, which is actually a viaduct, is going to be rebuilt in the coming years, so the Chicago Department of Transportation can take the opportunity to rebuild the street to work better for walking.

In a 2007 downtown pedestrian survey, CDOT counted over 40,000 people walking across the Adams Street bridge between 7:45 a.m. and 5:45 p.m. In a 2006 automobile survey, CDOT counted about 12,000 cars crossing the bridge in 24 hours. While most pedestrians probably entered Union Station before reaching this sidewalk, I think it’s still safe to say that at least as many people are walking as are driving at this intersection. And yet, pedestrians get the short end of the stick.

Below is a photo of another sneckdown. It’s one of my favorites — the intersection of Milwaukee, North, and Damen in Wicker Park. It slows turning drivers by tightening the curve.

Got sneckdowns in your neighborhood? Send us your photos and we’ll run the best on Streetsblog.

Instant traffic calming
Instant traffic calming thanks to this sneckdown in Wicker Park.
  • This would be a great idea. I know there have been a few studies and projects related to ped & auto circulation around union station but, much more is needed. Canal is a mess and clinton is under utilized. Give pedestrians and local/regional buses exclusive and expanded access to canal and push all cabs and private autos to clinton. (Perhaps something similar could be done with adams/jackson/madison… give adams to peds, buses, & bikes, make private autos and cabs take madison or jackson) This would also encourage more people to walk through the grand hall; a beautiful building whose vitality was destroyed with the awful 1990’s reconstruction of the station.

  • Whatever happens, don’t let any organizations whether it be state or community start saying “but this, but that”. The truth is, there has been demonstrated proof the street is overbuilt. Perhaps, yes, you might not be able to take back every inch of that sneckdown, but there is certainly room for improvement for pedestrians on this street.

  • Lynn Stevens

    I favor using the snow as guidance for traffic calming. At the same time I had to questions my own conclusions the other day when I wondered if we would make the same conclusion about snow on the sidewalks where no one had walked. Does that mean there’s too much sidewalk? For example, the top left photo shows a narrowed crosswalk due to snow. Should the conclusion be that crosswalks should therefore be narrowed?

    For slowing car traffic (but nothing to do with snow), check out the curb at the southeast corner of Kedzie and Addison. It’s tight turning radius slows cars tremendously, though it might need a higher curb (or it was purposely low to allow larger trucks to make the turn).

  • Anne A

    The Economist recently ran a piece on sneckdowns. Interesting and encouraging to see it coming from them. http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2014/02/natural-traffic-control

  • Jonny_O

    Let’s assume you convert a “sneckdown” into a proper neckdown. You’ll see another sneckdown further into the street during the next snowstorm, due to the fact that drivers are trying to avoid hitting the curb. Except now you’ve made the intersection trickier for vehicular traffic to navigate through, increased the cost of building and maintaining the intersection due to the complex curves, (not to mention a HUGE increase in the complexity of snow removal). What are you left with? A space that pedestrians don’t want to walk on because it puts them closer to the vehicular traffic now being driven by even-more-pissed-off drivers. And if you haven’t noticed, the fact that there are piles means the foot traffic isn’t using that space either. All you’ve accomplished is a subsidy for construction companies and overtime for the plow drivers.

    The term “traffic calming” is about as honest as “intelligent design”.

  • jennacatlin4

    such alarming situations must be tackled within due time, every time there happens snow falling, car park must be made carefully and keen check to pay less harm to the buildings around and make an escape from sneckdown as well Car parking Heathrow


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