Maximizing the Diagonal, An Hypothesis About Alternative Paths


When I am traveling from home to work (by foot), I encounter two alternative paths, as stylized in drawing on the right. In the first, I can go from Origin to A to Destination, or I can go from Origin to B to Destination. The distance and travel time on both routes is identical. I invariably choose A. On the return from my destination to the origin, I invariably choose B. Why? (And am I alone?)
My hypothesis is that because most road networks around here, and thus navigation perceptions, are on some version of the Manhattan Grid rather than Euclidean plane, taking advantage of the diagonal is advantageous, and I would rather do that sooner than later because of some discounting factor (i.e. the diagonal now is worth more than the diagonal in some risky future. Going to A in the morning (and B in the afternoon) means I am somehow closer to work in the morning (and home in the afternoon)).

It is possible that it is due to some street-crossing factor. (Going to A rather than B in the morning requires crossing the street sooner rather than later, in which case the discounting does make sense, since my crossing time is certain initially if I encounter a gap in traffic, while there is some possibility that crossing later will be difficult).

2 thoughts on “Maximizing the Diagonal, An Hypothesis About Alternative Paths”

  1. I do this also. I think it is partially mental “this is the way to work” and “this is the way home”. For me (as a bike commuter), it also has to do with the perception of hills (although both routes net exactly the same) or traffic along the route.

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