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Ohio State: Get off my lawn

Signs have been posted around these makeshift paths to keep students on surrounding sidewalks in an attempt to prevent damage to the lawns. Credit: Patrick Wiley | Lantern Reporter

Signs have been posted around these makeshift paths to keep students on surrounding sidewalks in an attempt to prevent damage to the lawns. Credit: Patrick Wiley | Lantern Reporter

You’ve probably seen them, you may have even contributed to them: green areas at Ohio State that have been reduced to muddy walkways.

“We call them cow paths,” said Paul Walsh, the assistant director of landscape services at OSU.

For the past year and half, since the 18th Avenue construction began, students have sought to find alternative routes to their classes in the area. For many, that has meant cutting across the university’s many lawns.

And with nearly 60,000 students roaming campus this semester, those detours have quickly turned into the occasional “cow path.”

Walsh said that the resulting landscaping and mobility needs are factored into construction projects when they are carried out.

“When construction occurs on campus, the resulting challenges of people walking around it are the responsibility of the project itself,” he said. “One of the last things the project will do is identify the problem areas caused by the construction.”

Samy Hassen, a fourth-year in computer science and engineering, said he walks across the “cow paths” instead of the sidewalk, citing the principle that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. He went on to call the paths “shortcuts” and expressed confusion in regards to the walkways being dubbed “cow paths.”

“What does that say about us?” he said. “Shortcuts definitely sound better, calling them ‘cow paths’ is a little degrading.”

Nicole Holman, spokeswoman for OSU’s Office of Administration and Planning, said her office, along with the Office of Student Life’s Disability Services and the departments of Transportation and Traffic Management and Public Safety, works to ensure that that official detours are compliant to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, and encouraged their use over unofficial paths.

“Approved detours are signed accordingly and all (students) should follow the directions of those detours for safety and to avoid the creation of unpaved pathways through landscaping,” Holman said. “To encourage the use of existing pathways, we may use plantings or ‘post and chain’ to make sure that pedestrians are walking along designated areas.”

Sam Harris and Mitch Hooper contributed to this article.

2 comments

  1. Tamped down dirt shortcuts are a part of OSU history; that’s how many of the sidewalks on the Oval were placed. I understand the university’s frustration (it’s hard to see your work destroyed), but I don’t understand their apparent surprise that humans would take the fastest route instead of going out of their way to stay on a winding path. If it’s such a bother, put up some fencing before it becomes a bigger issue. Also, on a campus that’s full of unsightly construction sites, blaming students for making the campus less beautiful seems like deflection.

  2. I teach product design in mechanical engineering, and one of the things I teach my students is to pay attention to what your intended users are doing, and adapt your designs to their behavior. This is called “behavior mapping”. Instead of putting up fences, FOD should put sidewalks where the students are walking.

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