Look at the telltale signs of people, they will tell you what the street needs.Calgary’s hidden desire lines
There’s a wonderful urban planning principle that what we build for, we will get. The idea is if we build for cars and traffic, we will get cars and traffic. If we build for people, we will get people.
The problem is that it’s sometimes difficult to figure out what exactly “building for people” looks like. People are behind the wheel of all those cars, after all, but they are also increasingly on foot, bicycle, and transit. The needs of cars have been studied extensively for many decades and catered to in many cases. So how do we figure out what people need?
One simple and wonderful way is to look for desire lines, which are paths taken by pedestrians outside of the “designed” street form. They are usually sort-cuts or more efficient ways to get from one place to another. If the desire is high for enough people, these lines will appear as worn paths in the ground, much like the two here on Elbow Drive SW and Crowfoot Circle NW.It’s amazing – once you know what you’re looking for, you start to see them everywhere. Some are small corner cuts that indicate where missing pavement might see good use, and others are an indication of the fact that a sidewalk on one side of the street really isn’t sufficient.
Desire lines are such a great tool that planners often use them in pedestrian heavy areas to see where people wish to walk before constructing any pathways at all. Such a strategy is results in beautiful patterns and useful walkways for people. Some of the best examples for this are university campuses, where walking is the chief mode of transportation. The University of Calgary is a great example of how to build for people by paving over existing desire lines:Desire lines don’t just create an opportunity for better footpaths and more strategically placed sidewalks, they can be used to identify how any system isn’t optimally serving a large number of people wishing to travel from one place to another. They can be used to study people’s railway travel habits, or to identify places in the street where many pedestrians would like to cross, but are unable or unwilling due to safety. In Calgary, this does not manifest itself very often, as our roads are generally fast moving and free flowing, not allowing many people to cross outside of the intersection. In New York City, however, gridlock gives pedestrians the ability to cross at non-crossing locations, leading to improvements like Six and a Half Avenue. Next time you’re out on the street, look for these desire lines, and feel free to share them here!