Bump out opportunity

I was reading a plan for a streetscape design (doesn’t matter for where) and I saw a street map with orange dots showing “bumpout opportunities.” The plan was mostly images and didn’t describe this feature.

Were these opportunities because the community had indicated their desire for slower turns, shorter crosswalks, additional landscaping, or they needed space for bike parking?

Or did someone think, “A bumpout would fit here, let’s install one.” (In other words, “because we can.”)

This post is less about questioning the rationale behind constructing bumpouts (also called curb extensions), but about questioning why and how we decide to build stuff.

Do we build things because there’s a need for that thing, or because someone thinks that thing is needed? This discussion leads us to talking about the role of public participation in planning. Often I see public participation used as a way to measure support for an idea that seems like it will become real regardless of which way the vocal public feels. Organizations should measure, instead, the demand for a solution of a problem, from which they can attempt to discover, understand, and propose fixes or improvements to the problem.

Paths of least resistance, part two

On the same day I wrote about “paths of least resistance” in a “Tuesday Roundup,” linking to a post on Discovering Urbanism, Boing Boing posted about “pathways of desire,” referencing this article on Sweet Juniper about the walking paths found after the snow is gone in Detroit.

From Sweet Juniper: “Gaston Bachelard called these les chemins du désir: pathways of desire. Paths that weren’t designed but eroded casually away by individuals finding the shortest distance between where they are coming from and where they intend to go.”

Photo: In 2006 I went on a tour of Chicago via a chartered Chicago Transit Authority train. Part of the tour traveled along the Green Line. From above, you can see many of the trails people paved. Using Google Maps’ satellite imagery, I took a screen capture of 50th Street and King Drive and marked all of the unofficial walking paths I could see.

And, “it is an urban legend on many college campuses that many sidewalks and pathways were not planned at all, but paved by the university after students created their own paths from building to building, straying from those originally prescribed.”

Photo: From the top of University Hall, you can see all of the constructed diagonal paths surrounding the quad on the University of Illinois at Chicago’s East Campus. You can see at least four cemented “pathways of desire” in the photo.

You may also know these footpaths as “intention lines.”

Photo: A worn path or intention line through the snow in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Richard Akerman.

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