There is an unspoken rule that every city dweller knows -- it's this split.
Every escalator is divided into two sides.
One side is for the standers and the other side is for the walkers.
This escalator etiquette has been established in cities all over the world--Tokyo, Moscow, Washington DC.
It's a delicate balance that's been struck, forced out of a battle between the walkers and the standers, that's been going on as long as escalators have been around.
Escalator walkers and standers have learned to accommodate or at least tolerate each other.
But this split isn't the best solution because it's inefficient and unsafe.
A better way has been proven through research and recommended by escalator manufacturers and public transit officials.
But changing people's escalator behavior isn't easy.
Officials know because they've tried and failed.
Because these two groups insist on using the escalator as they see fit.
So what's the right way to ride an escalator, and why is it so hard to get everybody to do it?
How people are supposed to use the escalator has always been a contentious topic.
Just check out these letters to the editor from a Boston newspaper in 1946.
To the editor, why is it that Boston people have so much time?
As a New Yorker, I find it very irritating to ride standing all the way up the escalator because some stout Bostonian chooses to use it as a slow motion roller coaster.
Whoever wrote that letter is the kind of guy that makes me sick.
Escalators are installed so that people who cannot walk up can get to the top of the stairs without killing themselves.
If the gentleman wants to run up, let him run up the stairs.
The original 1859 patent for revolving stairs said they could be used for standing or walking, but the first working prototypes were used as attractions at Coney Island and the World's Fair.
They were rides that were meant to be ridden.
When the first commercial version was created in 1899, it was called the escalator, derived from the Latin word Scala meaning steps, meaning they were meant to be stepped on.
What wasn't up for debate was that escalators were more convenient than stairs and they were installed in department stores, hotels, and train stations.
Subway escalators could transport far more passengers than elevators but needed to be long to reach the deep subway stations that doubled as air raid and fallout shelters during the Cold War.
Most of the world's longest escalators are in former Soviet Republics.
As cities got more crowded, people's need to get up or down the escalator became more urgent and the split became the norm.
But walking on an escalator is not the same as walking on stairs.
Escalator steps are wider and taller than stairs.
They also don't have landings and are much steeper as a result.
Walking is the number one cause of injuries on escalators for people under the age of 65.
You can see why then that the majority of people would choose to stand on long escalators, but an uneven weight distribution caused by standers puts a tremendous strain on one side of the machine, increasing the risk of it breaking down.
Escalator breakdowns are no joke.
Overburdened and aging escalators are common and can lead to horrific accidents.
As a result, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission as well as escalator manufacturers recommend standing in the center of the escalator and holding onto the handrail.
But that would mean giving up something critically important to commuters: the right to choose.
Research has shown that commuters experience more stress than fighter pilots and riot police.
That's because people really want to feel in control of their movement.
We get angry when our autonomy gets taken away.
Think of road rage during rush hour.
The escalator split helps avoid that, letting everyone choose how quickly they want to move.
But the split is wrong, not just because it's unsafe but because so much escalator space goes unused.
That's because half of the escalator is reserved for a minority of people.
A walker takes up an average of three steps while a stander takes up just one.
This leads to gridlock at the escalator's entrance and the longer the escalator, the more pronounced the problem gets because more people are going to choose to stand on the right.
But if people stood side by side on the escalator it could fit more people. More people riding the escalator means less build up, and it's been proven to work.
Please stand on both sides these escalators.
In 2016, London's Holborn Metro Station designated two of its escalators--
--some of the transit system's longest--as standing-only for six months.
The result? Escalator capacity was increased by 30 percent. But this only works if everyone does it, and that's a hard sell for walkers.
The Holborn escalators naturally went back to the split as soon as the trial was over.
Tokyo also tried and failed to implement a standing only rule despite a rigorous PSA campaign.
Why is it so hard to ditch the split for the common good?
Well, it isn't so much a problem of changing individual behavior but of changing a cultural norm.
Most Westerners prefer about a foot-and-a-half of personal space around them at all times.
Standing on an escalator doesn't allow for that and social pressure has a powerful influence on behavior.
Any tourist who has been screamed at for standing on the wrong side of the escalator knows that.
Whoa, buddy. I'm walkin' here!
But the shame can work both ways.
Several South American cities have hired mascots and mimes as crossing guards whose main job is to ridicule those who don't obey the traffic laws.
They've reduced traffic fatalities by as much as 50 percent.
The social pressure of the split has led to its dominance.
So it might take a couple of martyrs or mimes to take a stand on one side and start the revolution.
I'm sure this video has gotten a rise out of you.
So let us know your thoughts.
Can we change escalator behavior or are we absolutely insane for trying?
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