Detour and break optimising distance, a new perspective on transport and urbanism

L’Hostis, A.

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L'Hostis, A. (2017). Detour and break optimising distance, a new perspective on transport and urbanism. Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science, 44(3), 441-463.

Network Structure , Pedestrian Movement , Spatial Planning , Transport Networks , Urban Design

By studying the mathematical properties of metrics, we identify three fundamental characteristics of distance, which are optimality, detour and break. In this paper, we explore the implications of these properties for transport planning, urbanism and spatial planning. We state that distances contain the idea of optimum and that any distance is associated to a search for optimisation. Pedestrian movements obey this principle and sometimes depart from designed routes. Local suboptimality conveyed by public transport maps has to be corrected by interventions on public space to relieve the load on central parts of networks. The second principle we state is that detour in distances is most often a means to optimise movement. Fast transport systems generate most of the detour observed in geographical spaces at regional scale. This is why detour has to be taken into account in regional transport policies. The third statement is that breaks in movement contribute to optimising distances. Benches, cafe´s, pieces of art, railway stations are examples of the urban break. These facilities of break represent an urban paradox: they organise the possibility of a break, of a waste of time in a trip, and they also contribute to optimising distances in a wider network. In that sense, break should be considered as a relevant principle for the design of urban space in order to support a pedestrian-oriented urban form.

Main finding
By studying the mathematical properties of measurement, the author identifies three fundamental characteristics of distance: optimality, detour, and break. The author develops three statements that explore the implications of optimality, detour and break through transport, urban, and spatial planning; these include: optimization by a traveler’s use of desire lines, the use of detours to increase efficiency in travel, and breaks as necessary to provide momentum for movement. The author suggests that breaks, in a network of locations, can serve to optimize distances in a wider network of travel and should be considered important in the design of urban space for pedestrians. These breaks can be symbolic, spiritual, or an artistic experience.

Description of method used in the article
The author used mathematical metrics and analysis of the three errors of interpretation of triangle inequality to study and document multiple sites in France which fell into the domains of urbanism, spatial planning, and transport. The case sites developed support for the use of detours and breaks in an optimal system of distances.

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