Letter: Does it really make sense to stand on just one side of the escalator?

Walking will not speed things up. Image: Getty.

Our latest dip into the CityMetric postbag...

Dear CityMetric,

I was scanning the article by Jamie Lloyd on the Hong Kong metro. It sounds lovely – I’ve never been but will try and check it out one day, for sure.

However, I got annoyed about half way down;

 “One caveat is in order: people stand on both sides of the escalator. It is hard to find the right words to describe how this I feel about this without descending into cheap hyperbole. I will merely say that this makes me feel like shooting myself into the sun. In a metro network defined by its commitment to functionality, the acceptance of this behaviour baffles me.”

I simply don’t understand this. And it infuriates me every time I have to battle the tube on the way to meetings in London, particularly when everything is snarled up at the top or bottom of escalators.

Plenty of research has shown that making everyone stand, regardless of which side of the escalator they are, might actually speed things up; and articles have appeared covering the topic, for example, here and here. Thinking about it, it’s not unlike a Smart Motorway, where we effectively make everyone go at the same speed to significantly increase capacity, by reducing braking, rather than allowing the odd BMW driver whizz along at 85mph, causing everyone else to brake/panic/swerve/crash around them. There’s a YouTube video on Traffic Snakes which talks about this very effect. It’s exactly the same argument as standing on escalators.

At Birmingham New Street station, the escalators often develop into a standing only state through no fault of the station management, particularly when a full train arrives in the peak periods – that was even before the recent makeover. But although there’s a lot of standing around, it works, and everyone gets on with their day a bit quicker. I'm not sure how it starts: I suspect someone stands on the left and everyone files in behind them. But then when I get on the Tube, I start to hear the tutting and shouting and all sorts, which doesn’t strike me as friendly or, more importantly, efficient. 

So I wonder why there isn’t more talk about changing habits on the underground, given all the evidence. Perhaps a fine website like yours might want to push for it a bit more, to see what impact it has; maybe get some more information from TfL on their trial. It would seem perfectly reasonable to instigate it during peak times – after all you’re only rushing along the escalators to join a queue to board a train – but keep it as current during less busy times.   

It really does seem that everyone appears to be in favour of using transport more efficiently, but no one thinks to tackle glaringly obvious bits. 

Thanks 

Steve Pearce

Birmingham

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Podcast: Beyond the wall, with John Lanchester

A sea wall in Japan. Image: Getty.

This week it’s another live episode, of sorts. In early April I was lucky enough to chair an event at the Cambridge Literary Festival with the journalist and novelist John Lanchester.

John was mostly there to promote his latest novel, The Wall, a “cli-fi” book about a Britain trundling on after catastrophic climate change has wiped out much of the planet. In the past he’s also written about other vaguely CityMetric-y topics like the housing crisis and the tube - so he’s a guest I’ve been hoping to get on for a while, and was kind enough to allow us to record our chat for posterity and podcasting purposes.

Incidentally, I didn’t find a way of turning the conversation to the tube. We do lose ten minutes to talking about Game of Thrones, though.

The episode itself is below. You can subscribe to the podcast on AcastiTunes, or RSS. Enjoy.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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