Monthly Archive:March 2016

ByKevin Post

Desire Lines – Part 1 – Why do Mud Paths Form?

Have you ever wondered why people just walk across the lawn or parking lots even when there is a formal hard surface path near by? After a while, this short-cutting creates a muddy path in the lawn or pedestrian and vehicle conflicts? So why does this happen? Why do designed pathways sometimes fail and not operate as planned? How do you keep the pedestrian to the intended path?

In Desire Lines Part 1: we will have a quick look:

  • The issue,
  • Why it happens
  • Provide some suggestions to help make your site more pedestrian friendly during the design stage.
  • Future blogs will provide:
    • Addition tips for the design stage
    • Site alternation ideas for constructed sites

First off, pedestrians unlike cars, are very chaotic! Pedestrians prefer the shortest and easiest path of travel and will walk over obstacles upwards of 300mm (12”) high, steep hills, and through planting beds, if they believe it will be less effort (see Image 1). Vehicles, on the other hand, are much easier to control, as they prefer hard packed paved surfaces, but that is another discussion for a future blog. So back to the pedestrian.

Mud path leading into Victoria park, Kitchener

Image 1 – Desire line – a mud path has formed leading into Victoria park, Kitchener. This path is created from many people desiring access into the park at this corner.

As I mentioned above, pedestrians love the shortest and easiest path that allows of safe travel.

So what can be done?

During the planning stage, as your design team is starting to workout the layout of the parking lot, have a round table discussion with your landscape architect, traffic consultant, and architect.

    1. Define the goals for the site to be more pedestrian and alternate transportation friendly.
    2. First: Start the discussion by looking at how the pedestrians will access and move throughout
      • Always keep asking yourself, “how do I like walking through parking lots or commercial development sites?”
      • I bet it is usually from the points of access to the front door in the safest and quickest method?
    3. Highlight these routes on your plan as the preferred pedestrian corridors.
    4. Next look at how the vehicles will more through your site.
      • How do vehicle access the the site, how many, for what reason? .
      • Where do the delivery vehicles need to go? Can they access the site from all the adjacent roads?
    5. Where are the high traffic areas for pedestrians and vehicles?
      • Remember to place safe holding areas for pedestrians near areas of high traffic conflict, such as the main doors and main drive aisles.
      • These holding areas, should be both highly visible to vehicle and pedestrian traffic,
      • Raised walkways, zebra striping, rumble strips, signage, and anything to make the area feel smaller and more visually cluttered to vehicle drivers will help to reduce the speed of traffic and increase driver awareness.
      • To help slow the traffic,  you can model  a busy downtown street with lots of street shopping and cafes.  The vehicle speeds will be much closer to or lower than the posted speed  (see image 2) compared with the major highways (interstate).

        Downtown Blenheim

        Image 2 – Downtown Blenheim – note the even the road is wide, many cars are parked on the side of the road, the shop frontages are busy with signs and other details. All these elements reduce the speed of the vehicle traffic and help to reduce accidents.

I believe, if the pedestrian feels safe using your site, especially one with accessibility issues, they might drive a little farther to visit the shops at your site, which will result in higher sales. What if we start thinking and designing commercial sites to be more park and less like an efficient industrial sea of asphalt and concrete used for parking?

As a pedestrian moving through different sites, what parking lots do you dislike the most and why? Email us your comments at

Sign up for our newsletter In future blogs, I will post ideas to help control and slow vehicles down, provide additional ideas control pedestrian movement to areas you prefer them to be and away from areas that you do not what them to be.

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Feel free to drop me a line, if you have any questions or comments

(all images – Google street view)