The180·The 180

Why this Calgary man feels safe lying in an intersection

There's a good chance you've never heard of sneckdowns: they're those islands of untouched snow in the midst of chaotic intersections. Calgary's Matt Worona is keeping a keen eye on them this winter: to discover the secrets they hold about urban design.
Matt Worona lies in the sneckdown to demonstrate unused space. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

When it snows, you may head to the ski hills. Or curl up by the fire. Whatever you do, it probably doesn't involve making a beeline for a downtown intersection. 

But that's Matthew Worona's first move. 

The urban design enthusiast says snow creates a unique opportunity to observe the way a city's design works - and doesn't work. 

He's not talking about snow plows, or winter-ready transit. He's talking about something he calls "sneckdowns." 

"A sneckdown is, essentially, areas of untouched snow within intersections...we can really find opportunity in those spaces because they're not being used currently."

Take, for example, this intersection in downtown Calgary: 

Because it is the intersection of two one-way streets, drivers only turn at two of the four corners. So on the other two, there are patches of untouched snow. 

That snow serves as a reminder that the space is unused - and therefore, that the city could do something with it. 

One easy (and inexpensive) fix, says Worona, would be to cordon it off and make it a pedestrian refuge. Walkers could wait there, and when they had the light, would not have to walk as far to cross the street. It would look something like this or this.

In other instances, unused space could be used to plant trees, or even create small parks. 

This winter, Worona is cataloguing Calgary's sneckdowns on his blog Sneckdown Calgary. He asks his fellow Calgarians to be his eyes on the street, and send along examples so he can add them to his list.