#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.