Learn from a Leader: How to Capture and Report Sneckdowns

At ioby, we are  lucky to be surrounded by experts from across the country. Our ioby Leaders  can do some amazing things;  They can  build bat houses, make beeswax candles, teach  kids how to tell stories through dance!  And best of all, they’re not stingy with their knowledge.  That’s why we like to  feature some of our favorite Leaders in our Learn from a Leader series. We hope you enjoy!

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About the Author:  Clarence Eckerson, Jr. of Streetfilms is frequently referred to as “the hardest working man in transportation show biz” for his dedication to making wonky concepts more accessible and entertaining to the public. He’s been documenting transportation advocacy for over ten years with no formal background in video or urban planning. Clarence attributes much of his knowledge to never holding a driver’s license—99% of his footage is shot by bike, foot, train, or bus.


What the heck is a sneckdown?

Sneckdowns (a contraction of “snowy neckdowns” popularized by  Clarence  and Streetsblog founding editor Aaron Naparstek) are leftover snow piles on city streets that can show us spaces where cars don’t drive—spaces that can easily be reclaimed, by sidewalk extensions or other improvements, for pedestrian use.


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1. Gather some info

A few weeks before the first snowfalls hit your area, research and make a list of places that are “overbuilt” for cars: wide expanses of asphalt where it’s dangerous to cross, long straightaways that encourage speeding, or locations where pedestrian fatalities have occurred. This will familiarize you with the kinds of areas that make for good sneckdowns.


2. Secure pals!

Though this project can be easily be done solo, it will be more fun if you identify a few other people interested in safe streets and get them excited about documenting sneckdowns with you.


3. Tune in

Monitor the weather, and when a snow storm approaches, be ready to go into action. Although wet/light snow works okay, what you’re really hoping for is a heaping helping— at least three or four inches.


4. Get snapping

Once there’s snow on the ground, go out and take photos of streets where areas of snow remain largely untouched. Ground-level photos are great, but a second- or third-story perspective can show more (an outdoor subway platform, the window of a department store, etc). Visiting the places on your list in Step 1 is ideal, but be open to improv! Just while you’re going about your day, you’ll see how little room cars use in many intersections.


5. Spread the word

Tweet your photos with a #sneckdown hashtag. Email them to stakeholders: relevant nonprofits, elected officials, the department of transportation. Get local news attention by writing to “breaking news” email addresses and linking to other coverage of the phenomenon. Keep track of your photos on your own blog or Instagram, and post everything on related Facebook accounts (your own, advocacy groups, Streetfilms, etc).


Time/timing: All winter long!

Budget: Close to zero. Just your cell phone or a camera.

Supplies: A cell phone, or a digital camera, and a Twitter account is all you’ll need. Instagram, a blog, or a website is a bonus.


Additional resources:

Original Streetfilms video

The sneckdown origin story

Sweet successes


Beyond sneckdowns:

Other street conditions you can document

ioby’s Guide to Doing Good in the Cold and Snow  [PDF]