Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



Hill, Michael R. 1987. “’Asking Directions’ and Pedestrian Wayfinding.” Man-Environment Systems (Association for the Study of Man-Environment Relations) 37 (3/4): 113-120.


Copyright 1987 Michael R. Hill


This paper reports a study of the social ecology and systemic aspects of "asking for directions" in an urban area. Interviews were conducted with 100 randomly selected pedestrians at spatially stratified locations representing a variety of urban environments in Lincoln, Nebraska. The interviewer, posing as a "lost" pedestrian, asked respondents to give directions to local landmarks and then unobtrusively recorded their responses on a concealed tape recorder. Respondents generally provided accurate, distance-conserving directions with low levels of spatial complexity. Responses were friendly and often tailored to the unique environmental attributes characterizing each location. An outline of the process whereby a pedestrian asks for and receives directions is developed. The process is characterized as a system, here called a Pedestrian-to-Pedestrian Asking/Receiving Directions Sequence, with five essential elements: informants, origin/destination knowledge, route construction, information transfer, and user implementation. Several unanswered questions about these sequences are presented as a stimulus to future investigations.