Mapping city walking to a way of living

I will illustrate my version of walking in a city when I go from point A to point B. I believe that by following this guideline, you can get to places a little quicker than any random method. I believe that this is a good average case model. My outline will presume that the walker will obey the city traffic bi-laws (e.g., no Jaywalking) and general safety.

The concept is pretty straight forward

  • Minimise your wait times at intersections
  • Keep your options open
  • Don't be greedy
    G >> H >> I
    ^    ^    ^
    ^    ^    ^
    D >> E >> F
    ^    ^    ^
    ^    ^    ^
    A >> B >> C

Here is the guide

  • While keeping the general direction of your destination in mind, always walk in the same direction until there is an obstruction (e.g., traffic light). Only change your direction if you reach an intersection and have to wait for the walk sign to turn. For example, if you are walking on X and want to get to Y, then keep walking straight i.e., A->D->G. If you are at A, and can't go to D yet because of the light, don't wait for it, instead, go to B.

    Seems obvious right? Well, stick to that rule at all times.

  • While the first rule sets the basis for action, the real reason for it is as follows: any unnecessary change of direction, costs an optional path that could have been taken. For instance, sometimes we are at A but might want to wait for B to be available instead of crossing D. If you take B, then D and G are no longer available. Similarly, Jaywalking (taking the hypotenuse) only appears to be efficient locally, but not necessarily globally, hence, avoid it to retain possible paths later on. We sometimes do this because of external reasons; the physics of the environment or personal choice; path preference.

    Not throwing away possible paths allows us to make use of them later on.

  • Given that some of us do not really walk like robots (no offence to robots), and that when we arrive at an intersection we generally either take a chance, try to beat the light or wait for it. In this case, waiting a little bit and then switching directions is better because beating the light does not necessarily improve things globally, perhaps only locally. We can let go of some of those seconds and take a safer path that is at our disposal.

    So, stay cool.

Besides the pleasure of efficient city walking, where is the life philosophy in this, right? Here is how I map these rules to a way of living:

  • Be always on the move; both physically and mentally. Don't get stuck on mundane things that life throws at you. Explore, experience and escape from the loop.

  • Keep your eyes open and look for opportunities at every turn. Respect other people's options and conform when you have to. Having various ways to get to your destination, desires and goals should give us a taste of freedom. The idea is to avoid or better handle things that sets a limit to our lives. Of course, one can only presume that open choice is a good thing. It is your call.

  • There comes a time where we need to know for ourselves that what we have is sufficient to keep us happy. The more we run after that extra sense of perfection the more we are likely to exhaust ourselves, and miss the forest for the trees. We need to pause to enjoy what we already have.

About this article

  • Granted not all cities have rectangular blocks. Curved paths would be a lot more complex to calculate but the idea would remain the same.

  • I do not know if this is mathematically sound (perhaps you can check that out). I am going with the feel for now.

  • Walking with another person is always more enjoyable but not necessarily faster. So, keep your family and friends close unless you really have to do your own thing.



7 interactions

JennG’s photoJennG replied on

Very thoughtful! I definitely see it, but I also think meandering has its benefits at times. :)

Joel replied on

Nice article, it's always amazing how the simple act of walking allows the mind to explore and discover...

I don't think curved paths would change your approach to this, since in the meat-space we can use higher brain function to treat them the same (computers have nothing on us in that regard).

Toby Inkster’s photoToby Inkster replied on

This technique seems very much geared towards diagonal journeys on American-style boxy street layouts.

Consider a non-diagonal journey on your example map, say from X to G. Your technique doesn't offer any options.

Consider a non-boxy street layout, such as this one (Lewes, East Sussex). For many journeys there are only one or two routes that don't involve massive detours, so no incentive to change direction at junctions.

Roeland’s photoRoeland replied on

The technique you've indicated has long ago been established. It is called the "City-Block Distance" or "Manhattan Distance" and is frequently used in statistics. You can find some more info about that here:

Interesting though! I have never linked the method described above to the real act of moving towards a destination despite working with it frequently.

Note that your method is only valid in most Northern American cities I guess. In Europe (the Netherlands in my case) has no such blocks. Even better, this method would make you walk miles and miles in Amsterdam due to its layering.

Roeland’s photoRoeland replied on

To expand on my comment about Amsterdam: take a look at Google Maps on Amsterdam. If moving from the inner circle to the outer circle it is oftentimes better to cross over as late as possible and so to reduce walking distance.

On a sidenote: in Amsterdam it is really important you know the location of your final destination on the canalring. If you don't, it is often better to peek in the street ahead and backtrack (move towards outer circle, check number, move back to inner, continue).

Rommil Santiago’s photoRommil Santiago replied on

Love this post. Regardless of whether the exercise holds up mathematically, or whether it is the subject of some statistical study, the advice at the end of the article holds true.

Always keep on the move. So true. Often people become stagnant in life, and miss out on so many opportunities at the expense of comfort and habit.

By doing so, we also get in tune with what makes us truly happy. By exploring other possibilities we gain perspective and view our current situation from other angles and see chances for great things just around the corner.

Tentatus’s photoTentatus replied on

I don't understand why it's better to go to D than to B, whichever route you take you will miss out on other paths. And while this is something I most likely could have concocted had I been subjected to square block cities, I also find it quite the opposite of an exploring attitude (this is a philosophy for reaching your destination quickly, not for finding places you didn't know about, imho). (I fully agree about not running to save a few seconds of waiting time, but at the same time minimize unnecessary waiting time by changing sides.)

In addition to the other examples I would really love to see you use this in Venice :).