Malcolm Gladwell could get a book out of this

Whatever combination of methods you take to get to work, I’m pretty sure there’s one thing you have in common with everyone else.

That’s the desire to make the journey as quick as possible. If there’s a shortcut that doesn’t involve you being exposed to more congestion or danger or whatever, you’re likely to take it. Even if it just means taking a second off your journey.

Cutting corners: commuters shaving nanoseconds off their journey have killed the grass. That and no rainfall.

That’s why I found myself perplexed by the actions of most of the commuters in my neighbourhood.

Faced with a choice of several different routes to the local railway station, people will invariably choose the longest one. All the potential routes (save one) involve walking down similar suburban streets. The shortest route doesn’t take you past a noisy factory, a dangerous intersection or groups of hoodies lurking outside a crack den. This is New Malden after all.

So why do people take the longer route? And anyway, how do I know that some routes are quicker than others? What kind of a saddo am I?

Hump hunch

When I first moved into the area, I too took the longer route. I didn’t know it at the time – I’d thought that each of the roads to the station was about the same length, but then I noticed something a little odd.

(That’s odd for people like me, who are good at spotting life’s trivialities but who dismally fail to remember things like relatives’ birthdays.)

The thing I noticed was that some roads on the way to the station had more speed humps than others.

I know, it’s a revelation. It’s like my very own Roswell.

I dimly remembered reading somewhere that there were rules and regs concerning the height, positioning and spacing of road humps.

So I reasoned that if there was an equal distance between the humps, and that one road had more humps than others, ergo it would be a longer road.

There are duller blogs, believe me

So I went to Google maps and took a look. Yup. The answer was right there, staring me in the face.

The Groves area of New malden, showing the route almost everyone takes to get to the station.

The roads that I had initially thought were roughly the same length weren’t anything of the sort.

Lime Grove was a bit longer than Sycamore Grove.

Chestnut Grove was a bit longer still. And outlonging them all was the mighty Acacia Grove.

I sat back, my mind a blizzard of flurrying contradictions. What I had naively thought of as a rectangular grid-like pattern of roads – like Wandsworth’s famous toast rack – was no such thing. It was a quadrilateral alright, but with more of the unmistakeable characteristics of an isosceles trapezoid. Erk!

So why do people approaching from the north and west of Poplar Grove not take Sycamore Grove? One reason is that they don’t really give a toss how long their journey takes. The problem with this is that it would contravene the rock-solid hypothesis I posed in the second paragraph. We can’t have that.

The other reason is down to perception. I think there’s a widespread assumption that Poplar Grove runs parallel to New Malden High Street. So anyone approaching Poplar Grove would see the road they’re on appear to bend to the left, or north, after the intersection. In other words, it would seem to take them further away from their destination.

That would conflict with the shortest-route-possible principle. So instead of taking Sycamore, Lime or Chestnut Groves, most people will walk past all three and take Acacia Grove instead. The longest route possible but, according to their perception, the shortest.

Longest, that is, apart from The Cut. The Cut is a path that runs alongside the railway line. It’s quite a pleasant walk, but for some reason almost everyone snubs this route. I have no idea why.

Nest week, how to drive at speed between steel bollards.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Malcolm Gladwell could get a book out of this

  1. Splendid! A survey fit for a…surveyor, I suppose. A fascinating insight into the mindset of New Maldenites, at any rate. A mild diversion before lunch at the very least. *Non New-Maldenites skip this bit* And as a New Maldenite myself, I find this sort of thing rather valuable. I use The Cut as an arrow-straight lifeline to the station. Those who shun it are fools, I say! Or at least misguided. Or know something I don’t.
    But it’s no surprise that we’re creatures of comforting habit – even when that habit doesn’t hold up to the mirror of logic. But vevertheless, it is curious the way we perceive things. Everyone has their own reasons to do things the way they do them, logic be damned.
    But how does this insight about perception relate to work? We all have our own ways of working. For me as a copywriter, I like to get a lot down on the page and go back to hone and craft it. Others write more economically, in a more structured way. The way I work might not technically be ‘the best’ way to work as far as efficiency goes. But it works for me. And I guess that’s why the perception of something is as important as the reality.

    • bravenewmalden

      I too am a honer and crafter, Mattsky, although some might claim that a little more honing and crafting wouldn’t go amiss. Others would say hang the honing and cut the crafting, just get to the bloody point. They’re the ones called clients, generally.

      You’re right about the importance of perception. I guess that’s why the Daily Mail sells squillions of papers every day.

  2. Dear BNM,

    Not that I’m big on field study or anything, but I’m curious about your data sampling. The slob segment of the community will fundamentally have zero interest in going into work at all. While lying in bed, many will construct detailed mental maps of the local topology, and after figuring out the longest route, set off with the main ambition of getting into work as late as possible.

    Have you also considered the vast swathes of people going west on Beaconsfield, North on Elm Road and round Coombe Hill Golf Club to delay the agony until midday?

    Otherwise, commendable research.

  3. Fine use of the word Erk!

    Not sure about nest week though. It does sound comfy. 🙂

  4. Nolan

    Just to be a pedant for a moment; the shortest pedestrian route from A to B is something well understood by architects, planners and civil engineers; it’s called the ‘desire line’. None of whom appear to have remembered it when planning Poplar Grove. BTW I note your route passes the Royal Oak – just a co-incidence no doubt (love ‘Erk’ too!) Pip pip.

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