"Stand on the right AND left": Why has TfL introduced standing-only escalators?

A little less perambulation, a little more standing. Image: Getty.

Crowded cities need certain unwritten rules to keep them functioning. You don't stop dead in the middle of a pavement without warning. You let people off of the train before you try to get on.

One of the most important in London – one that all Londoners instinctively understand, and get visibly huffy about when tourists, inevitably, don't – is that, on an escalator, you always stand on the right. The left hand lane is reserved for those who are in a hurry to walk up or down. It's clear. It's simple. And it's helped keep the users of London's Underground network moving for a century and a half.

Anyway, Transport for London is experimenting with scrapping it.

You can tell quite what a dangerous precedent this is by the fact the Standard capped up the word yes.

Londoners are taking it well, though.

Once we'd recovered from the shock, thanks to a few deep breaths and a quick go on the smelling salts, we started thinking about the practicalities of this one. The Standard report said that the move was "aimed at smoothing the flow of people out of the busy station".

But how can you make people flow faster by stopping them from moving? Surely if you make everyone stand still you won't be smoothing the flow so much as preventing it? What is this madness?

So, we rang TfL and ask them what gives. The answer, it turns out, is that hardly anyone actually is walking up these specific escalators at all, because they're so bloody long. A spokesman told us:

"We get a lot of congestion at the bottom because the majority of customers don't want to walk. The left hand side empty, while everyone is queuing up to stand on the right. By filling up both sides, we can actually carry more people more quickly and clear that congestion."

In other words, the flow it'll be smoothing isn't on the escalator at all, because hardly anyone was bothering to climb them: it's in the queue to get onto the things. By preventing a small number of people from walking up the escalator, TfL hopes to effectively double the standing room on the escalator, and slash the queuing time for everyone.

That said, this is only workable because the escalators at Holborn are quite so long: if people were genuinely walking up the left, it might just slow things down. And even there, there's a chance it won't come off. As the spokesman said:

"It's a short term trial and we're going to see how customers respond to it."

In the mean time, if you want to be shouted at by TfL staff with megaphones that you absolutely should be standing on the left, then the trial will be going on for the next three weeks.


17 things the proposed “Tulip” skyscraper that London mayor Sadiq Khan just scrapped definitely resembled

Artist's impression. See if you can guess which one The Tulip is. Image: Foster + Partners.

Sadiq Khan has scrapped plans to build a massive glass thing in the City of London, on the grounds it would knacker London’s skyline. The “Tulip” would have been a narrow, 300m skyscraper, designed by Norman Foster’s Foster & Partners, with a viewing platform at the top. Following the mayor’s intervention, it now won’t be anything of the sort.

This may be no bad thing. For one thing, a lot of very important and clever people have been noisily unconvinced by the design. Take this statement from Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England, from earlier this year: “This building, a lift shaft with a bulge on top, would damage the very thing its developers claim they will deliver – tourism and views of London’s extraordinary heritage.”

More to the point, the design was just bloody silly. Here are some other things that, if it had been built, the Tulip would definitely have looked like.

1. A matchstick.

2. A drumstick.

3. A cotton ear bud.

4. A mystical staff, of the sort that might be wielded by Gandalf the Grey.

5. A giant spring onion.

6. A can of deodorant, from one of the brands whose cans are seemingly deliberately designed in such a way so as to remind male shoppers of the fact that they have a penis.

7. A device for unblocking a drain.

8. One of those lights that’s meant to resemble a candle.

9. A swab stick, of the sort sometimes used at sexual health clinics, in close proximity to somebody’s penis.

10.  A nearly finished lollipop.

11. Something a child would make from a pipe cleaner in art class, which you then have to pretend to be impressed by and keep on show for the next six months.

12. An arcology, of the sort seen in classic video game SimCity 2000.

13. Something you would order online and then pray will arrive in unmarked packaging.

14. The part of the male anatomy that the thing you are ordering online is meant to be a more impressive replica of.

15. A building that appears on the London skyline in the Star Trek franchise, in an attempt to communicate that we are looking at the FUTURE.

14a. Sorry, the one before last was a bit vague. What I actually meant was: a penis.

16. A long thin tube with a confusing bulbous bit on the end.

17. A stamen. Which, for avoidance of doubt, is a plant’s penis.

One thing it definitely does not resemble:

A sodding tulip.

Anyway, it’s bad, and it’s good the mayor has blocked it.

That’s it, that’s the take.

(Thanks to Anoosh Chakelian, Jasper Jackson, Patrick Maguire for helping me get to 17.)

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

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