It's been quite a ride we've had the last six weeks on the sneckdown train. At least 40 publications & blog posts since January 2nd including the BBC, The Economist, and The Atlantic Cities. I even got on the local news here in NYC on WPIX. As of December 2013 our two Streetfilms had been watched about 9,000 times, but currently are up over 32,000 plays. The phenomenon grows every day.
The most exciting thing has been watching the contributions - the blog posts and thousands of photos tweeted. I've asked myself, "What's next to keep up the motivated masses wanting to change their streets?" Well since 2005, Streetfilms done a lot of educational films about transportation terms in order to energize the general public. I've picked five I think are similar to sneckdowns when it comes to potential for fans to document with photos or video.
1. Drivers Behaving Rudely - There are many types of dangerous infractions you can capture any time of the day in big cities. A few years ago, we chose to document drivers not yielding to pedestrians and sitting in crosswalks. But you can chose whatever is your particular anger: double-parking, distracted driving or speeding (see if your local advocacy group has a speed gun you can borrow.)
2. Chicanes - Firstly, if you don't know how a chicane works, watch this 20 second animation. Essentially, a chicane is another form traffic calming that is quite effective in slowing cars. I made this Streetfilm when I was told by a DOT person - long time ago - that chicanes were pretty much impossible to install in New York City. However, I knew they'd work. Why? I'd see them temporarily form every week during street cleaning hours in my neighborhood when people double parked. I'll bet this happens in plenty of cities.
3. Drivers Failing to Signal - Anecdotally, talking amongst friends I've found most believe about half of drivers in NYC never use their blinkers - which can be dangerous if you are riding a bike or walking. I finally got fed up and came up with this experiment: I recorded the first 100 drivers turning to get an accurate average. This is the kind of thing that can be done across the U.S. Here's a great video from Philadelphia showing drivers repeatedly running a stop sign near Rittenhouse Square.
4. Locating Spots for "Daylighting" - This is a close cousin to sneckdowns as we are talking about curb extensions once again. But here your primary documentation should be looking for good places on the street to increase visibility for people and drivers. Sure, this should be just common street policy on our street corners, but since it means losing a few parking spaces - that's likely to rankle communities. It's best to fight for situations for the most vulnerable: around schools, senior centers, or pedestrian-heavy shopping areas.
5. Leading Pedestrian Interval - Here's an effective way of giving pedestrians a head start on turning vehicles. Watch the video to see how this works, then go out and find intersections where cars commonly cut in front of people - when cars & peds get a simultaneous green. Chances are it's likely a good place to ask your DOT for an LPI.
Finally I'd like to end this by really encouraging people to tell stories of things they've documented (and how) in the comments field. I think since we have lots of hungry new amateur traffic engineers, we can teach each other much on ways to look for a more livable community.
A few weeks ago we posted our newest video "The Rise of Open Streets," a joint production with The Street Plans Collaborative and the Alliance for Biking & Walking. We're excited to announce that sometime in March there will be a collection of our open streets films available on DVD for communities to use in public showings and presentations. If you need to get your community psyched that should do it. But if you can't wait, you can always download ANY of our films FREE now directly via Vimeo by using the download button on individual posts.
Streetfilms journey in to the world of ciclovias all began during the Summer of 2007, when Ethan Kent from the Project for Public Spaces wrote an article about his experience riding the ciclovia on a trip. That got me super curious. So a few months later Gil Penalosa, now the Executive Director of 8-80 Cities, gave us a mammoth tour of - well of everything - which led to a series of great Streetfilms from Bogota. Until last month, Ciclovia was the most popular Streetfilm of all time!
But there have been many more since. Our greatest contributor/freelancer John Hamilton has done phenomenal coverage over the years. He's done videos in San Jose, San Francisco, Berkeley, and this latest one (above) from Oakland. He shoots the majority of his footage while rollerblading. Sometimes it gets me jealous how good it looks.
I've been very fortunate to travel the world and experience many in my work with Streetfilms. I think my favorite - and that is really like saying "What is your favorite pizza?", because there is SO much good pizza - was my 2011 trip to Guadalajara. The energy on the streets was amazing, nearly undescribable. And I got to see things I hadn't seen in many other open streets events. For example, kids getting free haircuts!
If you'd like to watch more, please do. Here's an easy link to bring them up. And good luck if you are trying to make an event happen in your city!
Nearly everywhere in the livable streets world you look, the sneckdown phenomenon is growing - with hundreds of photos tagged #sneckdown on Twitter in the last month.
Although the majority of news articles & blogging sites have done a commendable job spreading the word, there's still a bit of confusion about the origin of the term and how it all started up. So let's clear that up.
About me: I've been shooting video since the late 1990s, always looking for interesting ways to explain transportation concepts to people. At first it was a hobby. In 2003, it morphed in to a full time job. During that time I learned much from volunteering with Transportation Alternatives and at some point I most certainly read this article in their monthly magazine which spoke about snow calming on curb corners.
(And if we want to delve back further, I've been told by friends that they had professors in urban planning courses talking about observing the patterns of footprints and vehicles in the snow, some as early as the mid-1990s. Dan Burden adds this wonderful bit of history. And somewhere l feel like Jane Jacobs must have pondered this too.)
I lived in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. I was frustrated with our Community Board always being resistant to the concept of traffic calming. They'd come up with ridiculous reasons against sensible implementations. Then one day in 2006 we had one of the largest NYC snowstorms ever and I decided to go walk around and record this: Street Lessons from a Blizzard.
I got a lot of positive feedback on that short. But in the back of my mind, I wanted to do a more serious Streetfilm, one that focussed on slowing down traffic in crosswalks and making the case for putting in curb extensions, or as some wonky traffic experts referred to as "neckdowns". In 2011, now living in Queens, I shot a sequel finding that some of these collections of snow - which I have referred to as "nature's tracing paper " - are nearly 10 feet out from the curb! At one point I improvised the term "snowy neckdowns" when describing them, which was used in the title of this Streetfilm.
Both videos were moderate hits, attracting periodic attention from fans & advocates - some emailing me or tweeting the occasional photo(s). During this time Doug Gordon, from Brooklyn Spoke, was a regular contributor trying to rally folks to do the same.
Then suddenly, interest in the videos climbed in December, most likely due to the copious winter snowstorms rolling across the U.S. One day before an impending storm was due to hit the northeast, Doug Gordon suggested we needed a hashtag for encouraging posting of a new batch of photos. As you can see from the above Twitter screenshot, Aaron Naparstek, Streetsblog founder and former Editor-in-Chief suggested #sneckdown, a portmanteau of "snowy neckdowns".
It was perfect. The hashtag got people psyched. And it got even more people curious. "What the heck is a #sneckdown?" was a frequent tweet I'd attempt to answer in 140 characters. Then the news stories started. The first big one was by the BBC. That was followed by many more media reports and a few radio interviews.
I just love hearing success stories like this. Take a gander at this new video from Lviv, Ukraine which shows off some of their recent cycling infra successes in 2013.
The film was sent to me by Demyan Danyluk who's been a big Streetfilms fan since 2010. He's a co-founder of the local urban iniative platform "Lypneva". They hold frequent public events trying to convince the residents of their city to make it more livable with bike lanes and open space. And they always screen some Streetfilms. "People really like Streetfilms! It helps to show them how different cities/countries live and what they are doing now with their mobility and city planing," he said in an email.
Since the language barrier can prove to be difficult, early last year he got the idea to take over two dozen Streetfilms and dub them into Ukrainian. With that kind of effort, how could we not give him permission to post them on their Vimeo channel.
Demyan says there is a generational shift taking place. "In Ukraine, nearly 55% of inhabitants use the internet and the most active users are age 15-35. But most of politicians, decision makers and planers are older [and we need to better educate them.]"
Demyan says they are spreading the word to other cities: "Different cities in Ukraine want to cooparate with us. At conferences we show them not only our presentation, but, especially Streetfilms."
We're certainly glad to hear that we helped play a part in convincing Lviv to change their transportation priorities. A quick note: if you need to dub Streetfilms in to a different language - fine with us, just give us a heads up. On Vimeo you can use the download button to get a free copy of any of our 600 films and you'll be off and running.
As many of you may know by now, yesterday NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio held a historic press conference to announce the beginnings of implementing a "Vision Zero" approach to NYC's dangerous streets. We decided to take the unusual route and put up a good deal of long (but edited) soundbites from the press conference in Queens rather than do a traditional Streetfilm. Why? Because we know there are many advocates and interested transportation wonks out there who will want to hear the bulk of the speech versus the 20 or 30 seconds worth of speeches you'll get in a news story.
But later that night, the community on Manhattan's Upper West Side held a vigil to remember recent victims of traffic violence there. There were nearly 300 people there spilling over the sidewalks. The mood was sad, but also angry. And although many folks were happy to hear that the Mayor is taking unprecedented action to help make our streets more safe to navigate for pedestrians, there is still a level of caution amongst the optimism. You can be sure advocates will be keeping a watchful and supportive eye.
As a personal note, I'd like to say that as someone who has been volunteering and helping work for more livable streets since the late 1990's. I have never seen such a level of optimism amongst advocates. But we've also had some unbelievably tragic events occur in the last 3 months. We cannot waste this unique moment of time. We need to support Mayor de Blaiso, and we need to strive to do even more in the months to come.