A desire line survey may be carried out to identify which routes people would ideally like to take between two places if there was a path provided. Desire lines, also known as desire paths, are often evident where pedestrians or cyclists have worn a path between two points to minimise the distance they have to travel or to create a route that is more convenient in other ways. Sometimes a desire path is created to avoid a steep hill or a busy junction. They can be found on grassed areas between buildings on college campuses, in parks and in many urban areas.
Desire line surveys can be used to identify whether current provisions are adequate. For example, pedestrians may fail to use certain crossing points on a busy road because they are not situated in a convenient place. This can have road safety implications and planners will be able to identify and provide better solutions. Planners can use information collected by desire line surveys to create paths that they know people will use. In Finland the routes taken in parks by walkers after the first snowfall are documented and used to plan where trails will be created.
The term 'desire line' has been applied on a larger scale to improvements in urban transport such as a cycle route or bus route that linking two places people want to go more directly.
Today's data collection techniques, such as video recording, and the ability to study patterns in traffic mean that it is much easier for planners to find out where people want to go and whether current provision is appropriate.