desire lines

countryside trails


desire line = ein von Wanderern oder Radfahrern angelegter Weg, im Gegensatz zu einem offiziell geplanten; Trampelpfad; Verkehrsstromlinie



“There are lots of considerations, such as traffic flow, safety and how well a crossing would be used. We are carrying out a ‘DESIRE LINE’ survey — to find out where people want a crossing.”

The Midweek Herald (16 February 2021)

Did you

desire line
noun phrase

- an unplanned route or path (such as one worn into a grassy surface by repeated foot traffic) that is used by pedestrians in preference to or in the absence of a designated alternative (such as a paved pathway)

- A path that pedestrians take informally, rather than taking a sidewalk or set route; e.g. a well-worn ribbon of dirt that one sees cutting across a patch of grass, or paths in the snow

- a path made by walkers or cyclists, as opposed to one that is officially planned

Merriam-Webster / Your Dictionary / Macmillan Dictionary

“Paths & tracks made over time by the wishes & feet of walkers, especially those paths that run contrary to design or planning”

Robert Macfarlane


“Desire line” dates back to 1946. It was used by American transport planners to mean ‘a straight line from an origin to a destination’, and was subsequently picked up by urban planners, architects, and designers.


“Since the beginning of lockdown, a new path has sprung up in my local park – it snakes underneath a tree and up (and then down) a small hill, marking the way to the local Sainsbury’s… They are visible markers of our autonomy or, at the very least, our undeniable love of shortcuts… My Sainsbury’s desire path runs parallel to the real deal, and has clearly sprung up as people seek to avoid brushing past each other due to social-distancing measures.”

Amelia Tait - The Guardian (14 June 2020)


free-will ways, cow paths, herd paths, pirate paths, social trails, kemonomichi (beast trails), chemins de l’âne (donkey paths), Olifantenpad (elephant trails). J.M. Barrie described them as “Paths that have made themselves”.

THANKS to Jacky for suggesting today’s phrase.

SMUGGLE OWAD into an English conversation, say something like:

“I wonder what the equivalent of DESIRE LINES in-the-mind could be. Maybe ‘intuitions’ or ‘feelings of rightness or wrongness’.”

THANKS to Jacky for suggesting today’s phrase.

HERZLICHEN DANK to all readers helping me keep OWAD alive with single or monthly donations at:


Paul Smith, IBAN: DE75 7316 0000 0002 5477 40

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