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Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Shortest Distance ....

I have many pet peeves. One of them concerns the people who build paths and walkways. If you're going to spend a lot of money constructing fancy walkways, then it makes sense to put a little thought into where you're going to put them. As a general rule, you should put the walkway where people are going to walk.

A few years ago (2008), the University of Toronto spent a million dollars on constructing new pathways throughout the downtown campus. The new paths mostly followed the old paths but there were places where that didn't make sense. As I reported back then [If you build it, will they follow?], the old path didn't line up with the new ramp to my building (see photo below). The guys building the path agreed with me that the placement of the walkway made no sense but they were overruled by their supervisor who insisted that the alignment wasn't a problem. People would stay on the new walkway and they would be encouraged to do so by strategic placement of a big rock.

Can you guess what happened? That ramp is now the main entrance to my building for people coming up from the subway exit. Will they follow the path, taking a sharp right turn then a sharp left turn or will they cut straight across the grass making as much of a mess as before the new walkway was constructed?

Here's the result ...

Isn't that ridiculous? Just as predicted, people take the shortest distance between two points and if that means walking over the grass and making an ugly mess, then so be it. What's the point of spending a ton of money to make the campus look nice if this is the result?


  1. The important thing about paths is that they have to look pretty (particularly on the architect's mock up).

    People walking on them - why would anybody care about that?


    I was often amused by a different aspect. The builders construct their path with meticulous care so that it look just right. Everything is properly aligned in accordance with the specs.

    A week later, the utilities crew digs it up to attach sewers or electrical lines, etc. And they are not nearly as meticulous about how they put it back.

  2. Nice assertion on the Wikipedia page on "desire paths":

    "In Finland, planners are known to visit their parks immediately after the first snowfall, when the existing paths are not visible.[1] People naturally choose desire lines, which are then clearly indicated by their footprints and can be used to guide the routing of new purpose built paths."

    The reference trail doesn't confirm this but it's a nice thought. In the case of Moran v University of Toronto, it looks like an application of common sense would have been sufficient...

  3. The previous brick pattern is a lot better.

  4. I do like the rock idea. Something about it is kind of hilarious.