Desire paths and the memory of crosswalks
I learned about desire paths from an episode of 99% Invisible and it is such a neat thing to know. Desire paths appear in places where snow covers up the existing pedestrian infrastructure such as sidewalks and crosswalks for a period of time (I think the principle can also be applied to car traffic). Then, in the snow, as people walk around, paths appear showing the natural habits of pedestrians. Where do they actually walk/cross the street/take shortcuts? Once the snow is gone, city planners can take what they’ve learned from the snowy season and make desire paths into official walkways.
I have seen this implemented in Turku twice, just from my own casual observation. The first was near our old house, where people and cyclists often cut diagonally across a rectangular park. Eventually (perhaps after observing the path of desire that appeared during winter?), the city leveled the ad-hoc path and paved it with gravel. The second time was near our new house, when they widened and gravel-paved an existing narrow path through the forest last summer.
This winter, there has been so much snow that some desire paths are actually disappearing. If the snow is too deep to walk through, or if it’s been blocked by a huge pile of snow plowed off the street, then pedestrians stick to official sidewalks (because they’ve been cleared) and the desire path fades into memory - hopefully to re-emerge in the spring!
This disappearing act also happens with official crosswalks - the other night at Street-O I had to double- and triple-check where the marked crosswalks were since the striped street markings (and sometimes even the accompanying raised speed bumps) are all covered in snow. It helps that Finland uses both street paint as well as above-snow street signs to mark things like turn lanes and crosswalks that might otherwise be covered in snow for a few months out of the year. It makes for a more cluttered streetscape, but recently I’ve been glad to have a reminder of where the crosswalks actually are!