#ParkFail: Don’t Even Think About Walking Straight Through Commons Park

A gleaming new chain now steers people away from the walking path they want in Commons Park. Photo: David Sachs

When lots of people walk a particular route through the grass, they form trails called “desire lines.” These paths reflect how people prefer to get where they’re going — usually the most direct route possible — even if engineers and planners did not intend it.

You can see it in action at Commons Park, between Lower Downtown and Lower Highland. If you’ve walked from one of those neighborhoods to the other, you’ve probably helped cement the desire line that cuts a straight trail through the grass, a much more direct route than the circuitous walking path laid out by the park’s designers.

But Denver Parks and Recreation does not want you to take the most direct route. In fact, Parks and Rec now forces you to take the indirect one. Crews have erected a velvet rope-style fence blocking pedestrian access. You want to walk through the park? That’s rich!

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The desire line illustrates why most people walk through the park instead of on the paved path. It’s simply a shorter walk. Image: Google Earth

The bureaucratic impulse to change people’s walking habits at Commons Park is not new. DenverInfill posted about it eight years ago when a “PLEASE USE SIDEWALK” sign asked people to avoid the park. Now Parks and Rec has doubled down with chains. If you end up missing the bus as a result, so be it.

As Copenhagen-based urban planner Mikael Colville-Andersen told a Denver crowd in February, attempting to control how people walk in a city is arrogant and inefficient. Parks and Rec should be observing what people want to do, and adjust designs to accommodate that.

  • TonesOfLife

    I used to live over here, and back then as you said the problem still existed. I can’t believe they haven’t given in yet. This is definitely the wrong solution and they should just add a stone walk or something… stepping stones in the place of the dirt. Probably cheaper and nice looking that that horrible chain which will only rust and cause accidents at night as people trip over it.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Denver is stuck in is the suburban ideal — that lawns are there to be admired while driving by.


  • Bernard Finucane
  • Cat

    This is just silly. And what exactly is the point of having grass if people aren’t allowed to use it?

  • Chris

    I have walked the side walk always when over here for years. I can see how the chain may be annoying. What would happen if they removed the chain and planted trees instead on a few more pieces of the land near the trail that has been created? I prefer a meandering sidewalk over a straight sidewalk, but if the desire is to have a straight side walk can we remove the other one and plan new grass then?

    • neroden

      Straight sidewalk is better. Some people are actually trying to get somewhere. Meandering routes are not sensible, generally speaking.

      • Chris

        If they would have planted trees a number of years ago in those spots would foot traffic just shift to another part of the grass or stay on the current side walk? I don’t mind adding in a sidewalk there. I would ask that they remove a length of the other side walk to add back some grassy areas.

      • Camera_Shy

        Meandering routes are sensible if one is not trying to get somewhere specific (like walking around a park for a stroll). In this case, the designers didn’t “see” that people would be trying to get somewhere in addition to those who are simply strolling.

  • gojoblogo

    That last paragraph sums it up well. The original design made a mistake – not a bad one but one made evident by the cow path across the lawn. I do think that we should keep people from biking and walking over and over across the same piece of lawn as it destroys it and compacts the soil, but the solution is not to stop the movement – it is to change the material. If people clearly want to walk across it and if we don’t want them on the grass, the solution is to make it not grass; not stop people from walking. The original design was not drafted in stone. It is not precious, especially if it clearly does not work with the people who use it.

    Also, the signage could make it more clear that using the lawn is encouraged just not that specific usage. This park used to be vibrant and for a number of reasons it no longer is. This will not help with that!

    • neroden

      Move the pathway to where the people walk! The original designers of the park were quite stupid. Remove the silly loopy path and put in two straight paths along the obvious desire lines.

  • Nanci Kerr

    It seems like one issue the city is trying to solve is discouraging the “travelers” who gather in the depression on top of the hill, aka the bong hole. To be more accurate, the sign should read, “Please Protect Our Park From the Dirty Potheads.”

  • Bryan Jamison

    im schocked as to NOT read anything as to the suicide that took place there from a man hanging himself there off the 15th st brigde ??????????????

  • Walter Crunch

    Genius. Pure Genius.

  • Susan Barnes-Gelt

    Note to City: Read William Holly Whyte to learn the futility of controlling PUBLIC spaces, including grass . . .

  • Camera_Shy

    The issue is the curvy concrete path was not designed to be used as an access path. The access path goes exactly where the people are tramping (ie. it’s the desired path). The designers either didn’t know there are two types of paths, or they ignored this fact and tried to provide only one of the types of paths. The effort for the past decade to get people to stop using the desired path, instead of installing (or changing the existing path to be) a desired path is idiotic at best.