What are we talking about today?

Some days have themes. I don't necessarily post something in each of these topic areas every week.

Sunday: Church-related or spiritual things.
Monday: Running.
Tuesday: Books.
Wednesday: Transportation.
Friday: Green living.

05 July 2017

Feet's Desire

My first experience with the idea of desire lines was when I was in high school and the relevant authorities finally decided that it was time to build a sidewalk over the drainage ditch between the library and the school. In the local news article announcing the construction, the gent in charge said they chose the siting based on the worn spots in the grass. Good choice.

When presented with a space like this, I absolutely
will walk straight through the middle rather than around.
When you walk everywhere, following desire lines is
as much a matter of conservation of energy as it is
convenience. Source: sugoru.com.
Of course, since then in my professional life as an active transportation advocate, I've heard about desire lines many times, most notably at the 2014 Texas Trails and Active Transportation Conference, where Mikael Colville-Andersen spoke quite a bit about his work researching desire lines. Basically, if you've ever seen a straight line worn across a grassy area by people who'd rather not take the long way round via the officially designated route (i.e., the sidewalk), you've looked at a desire line. Wise municipalities keep an eye on desire lines and keep them in mind when it comes time for updating infrastructure. Senseless municipalities do things like putting up fences and otherwise trying to further inconvenience citizens who have rejected inconvenient design.

Of course, as has often been pointed out, sometimes the users are wrong. And sometimes so many desire lines pop up that it would be silly to officially legitimize all of them. Cities have to strike a balance--neither chasing after every desire line nor categorically ignoring them all is the correct answer.

One of the most interesting conclusions from Mr. Colville-Anderson's research is that when adequate and safe infrastructure is provided for people who ride bikes, then the actions that people on bikes take to keep ourselves alive and safely moving from point A to point B on infrastructure not designed for us--actions drivers frequently resent and complain loudly about, all while doing nothing to make people on bikes safer--those actions go away when infrastructure is adequate. When each road user had sufficient space and room to breathe without having to carve our own desire lines, positive interactions from all is the result.

I ran across a great statement in the book Shakespeare's London On 5 Groats a Day: "In England, roads are not made--they happen, whenever a sufficient number of people and horses tread out a track to wherever they wish to go." Many of these original desire lines across not only England, but also Europe, and indeed across the parts of the US where most roads predate automobiles, have been codified into the road system now. Desire lines are a life hack spread across entire cities, showing the real ways humans interact with their environment.

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