No-Desire Lines

Desire line in action
The story of the humble desire line is well documented. First, it is written by people. Then others read it and write about it in a kind of text on text.

The desire line, or desire path, is typically the easiest way to get where you are going. In the picture above, the desire line through the grass on the left of the city sidewalk makes itself seen as person after person chooses not to navigate the metal barrier bars installed by the municipal authority for reasons that person after person visibly defy into the erosion that is a desire line. 

People are drawn to the rich concept of desire lines for many reasons. They purportedly reveal the folly of blind bureaucracy. They underline the supposed wisdom of the crowd. People who say design is everything like to write about desire lines. People who celebrate individual creativity like to talk about desire lines. And so do people who are drawn to figurative language.

Indeed, desire lines are like those pieces of paper inscribed with messages written in invisible lemon juice that, as kids, we used to put on an oven rack under the broiler. The logic of the heat slowly made the letters, now a kind of burned brown colour, appear. 

In Edmonton in the winter, it is the snow that acts as a blank sheet of paper on which tracks are written, and the tracks tell a story made out clearly by people who commute on their bicycles.

I call the tracks no-desire lines. 

In the video below, you can see my bicycle follow the tire tracks of a fellow bicyclist who had recently taken the same path. In the distance you can see a deposited car at the curb. The driverless car, essentially a piece of metal road sculpture, a manner of winter art installation, writes the bicyclist away from the curb lane and closer to the path of automobile traffic on the left. 

Arguably, if the car were not there, the bicyclist would have continued in a straight line close to the curb and not moved closer to the centre lane where automobile traffic approaches her or him from behind. This subtle coercion that moves the cyclist off line and closer to the danger of that automobile traffic is made visible in the winter snow as a no-desire line.

Admittedly, the danger of the no-desire line is easily forgotten as the deposited cars are safely passed and life moves on, quietly. But there is a message to be read.


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