Wednesday 24 April 2013

Goat Paths

The goat paths I'm talking about are not made by goats, but by humans who choose to regularly imitate goats, repeatedly short-cutting across unpaved areas along narrow pathways. I have nothing against people taking shortcuts once in a while when they're in a hurry and it'll actually save time. Some goat paths are pretty efficient shortcuts. The one pictured below cuts through Blue Quill Park near the Century Park train station.

Goat path traced in red.
The orange indicates one possible goat path to the red line, with the equivalent paved path traced in blue.
Dozens of people take this goat path everyday on their way to and from the station. I've traced one possible variant utilizing this goat path. The orange-red path is about 376 m, compared to the blue path's 634 m. A typical walking speed is about 5 km/h, so the average goat-imitator saves about 7 minutes 40 seconds and 38 Calories taking the shorter path here. Pretty significant if you're in a hurry or inclined towards laziness. But do you have to follow that precise path every time? Does the grass hinder you in such a way that you've developed a preference for the narrow trail worn into the dirt? You have the whole damned field to walk in. Alternate your path every time so that the grass can recover from you walking on it.

When the shortcut doesn't save you an appreciable amount of time, why even bother? Pictured below is just one of many goat paths on the University of Alberta campus. This one is in front of one of the engineering buildings.

Goat path traced in red. Concrete sidewalks traced in blue.
There's also some landscaping approximately where I've drawn that green blob.
Are engineering students being clever, applying the Pythagorean theorem to their morning walk to class? Or are they just being lazy goat-imitators? Using Google maps, I estimated that the red path is about 12 m shorter than the blue path, which means taking the red path saves you less than nine seconds. Nine seconds! Dozens of lazy wannabe engineers make an active choice to emulate the behaviour of the genus Capra, destroying the grass in order to shave nine seconds off their morning commute. In an effort to prevent people from using this goat path, the University paid for some landscaping to be placed in the way. But the goats kept coming, killing a juniper shrub in the process. What's even more ridiculous is that many of these goats use the path when it is wet and muddy, choosing to also get their shoes dirty in an effort to not burn seven tenths of one Calorie. The next time that you're thinking about being a goat, why not stop to consider that it costs money to make the grounds look nice (if you're a student, some of that money comes from your tuition fees) and how your nonsensical destructive actions will save you a negligible amount of time and energy. Then take the sidewalk like you're supposed to.

Or use this handy flowchart. 

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