Greater Greater Washington


This one trick could get people to use escalators properly

Sometimes the smallest changes affect behavior in a big way. Designer Yoni Alter is trying to do that with subway escalators, where it's hard to get people to stand on the right and walk on the left.

Photo by Yoni Alter.

Alter, who lives in London, suggested this to Transport For London, and they're trying it out. Though in responses to this tweet, people pointed out it won't work when the escalator goes one way in the morning rush and the other way in the evening, as many do.

Another obstacle to trying this in DC: Metro doesn't officially recommend walking on one side of the escalator, as the absolute safest thing to do is stand on the escalator and hold the handrail. (Though the even safer thing to do is just to stay in your house all day and never move, and Metro doesn't recommend that.)

But, We Love DC reported that US safety codes forbid signs on the escalator. Does it forbid painted footsteps? If not, maybe this is a great solution.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 


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Hasn't this concept already been done on GGWash? Maybe just Reddit a few months ago (and then again yesterday).

Anyways, it doesn't really work terribly well in practice. What if the escalator breaks down and you want to reverse another? What if you have a 3- or 5- escalator setup, with the middle one reversing based on rush hour? Simple signs like in London, "stand on the right walk on the left" or something to that effect, work far better.

by ImThat1Guy on Dec 24, 2013 10:41 am • linkreport

That Metro official said they can't tell people to "stand right, walk left" but then their website says exactly that:

by Adam Lewis on Dec 24, 2013 10:41 am • linkreport

Years ago Metro used to have a sign at the escalator that says "stand right, walk left", but they removed them.

Today, while most people stand to the right, I still see some standing on the left side blocking people from walking down, especially when it's real crowded.

This can be problem when I'm trying to go down the escalator to the lower level at L'Enfant. The people who got off from the Green line train crowd and block the only down escalator, so I can't run down to catch the train.

by Davin Peterson on Dec 24, 2013 10:53 am • linkreport

I don't think that anything needs to change from the current practice, and I don't think that Metro should do anything to officially "encourage" or "enforce" it, as it really should not be universal due to some special circumstances that arise.

Two scenarios that I have witnessed regularly come to mind. The first being someone who is sight impaired and walking with an assist dog who needs to have that dog next to them on the step, and therefore blocking the passage on the left. The second scenario is someone travelling with a smallish child too heavy to lift that is unsteady entering or exiting an escalator and needs the stability of their parent aside them when doing so.

And as has been said before on this, why put all this money and effort into this "trick" for people too passive-aggressive to simply make the judgement call and say "excuse me" when they need or want to get through.

by A. P. on Dec 24, 2013 10:54 am • linkreport

The Minneapolis airport uses walk/stand markings - albeit nowhere near as artsy as this design - on just about all of their moving walkways.

by Peter K on Dec 24, 2013 10:55 am • linkreport

As stated above, what about when the escalator reverses directions?

by WRD on Dec 24, 2013 10:55 am • linkreport

To solve the two-way escalator problem (sometimes going up, sometimes going down), how about putting text ("Walk" on left side, "Stand" on right side) on both the top and front of each escalator "step" so that depending on which way the escalator is going, people will see where to stand/walk.

If the escalator is going down, the text will be on top of each step like the image in this article. If the escalator is going up, the text would be on the front of each step like this!qAqlV (note: having Star Wars on our escalators would be pretty cool)

by bobco85 on Dec 24, 2013 11:11 am • linkreport

Perhaps its because I'm the type who usually stands on the right side and am not inclined to rush up or down the escalators, I don't see that the current situation is a real problem. Regular riders generally know to stand to the right and new riders usually learn after a couple of times through the stations. If the policy is advocated by signs or marks on the escalators, that may only encourage the more aggressive types to push past people and kids on crowded escalators.

Rather than worrying about how to educate the newbies on the etiquette of escalators, how about advocating that WMATA speed the escalators up a little? Ok, they won't go back to the original escalator speeds used in the early days, but come on, take the speed up a notch or two, especially for the long escalators.

by AlanF on Dec 24, 2013 11:22 am • linkreport

Text, pictures, signs - it's all moot since most stations are too dark to read anything on the escalators anyway.

by DC20009 on Dec 24, 2013 11:25 am • linkreport

Escalators are - oddly enough - not designed to be walked up or down. The rise is higher than with actual steps and the clearance is more difficult. The steps are also slick. Furthermore, walking on the escalator actually causes it to break down more often. So Metro should encourage people to stand right, stand left and not walk. That's "proper" usage.

by David C on Dec 24, 2013 11:39 am • linkreport

@David C

This is the 21st Century. Build better escalators. Those used in the Tube are fantastic, and fast.

by Adam Lewis on Dec 24, 2013 11:50 am • linkreport

"Standees hate it!"

WRT reversing escalators, Metro has pretty much eliminated this practice. Up until fairly recently, the escalators were configured just before each rush hour to reflect the dominant direction of traffic. Now the majority of stations use a static configuration that favors traffic going "up". This was done to "improve the reliability" of the escalators th

by dcmike on Dec 24, 2013 11:50 am • linkreport

"Standees hate it!"

WRT reversing escalators, Metro has pretty much eliminated this practice. Up until fairly recently, the escalators were configured just before each rush hour to reflect the dominant direction of traffic. Now the majority of stations use a static configuration that favors traffic going "up". This was done to "improve the reliability" of the escalators, though I'm not too sure what evidence there is, if any, supporting this claim.

by dcmike on Dec 24, 2013 11:52 am • linkreport

The fact that Metro "cant" tell people to stand on the right is typical of the sort of bizarre bureaucratic inability to get things done. Its so often the simple things that seem to elude Metro.

by SJE on Dec 24, 2013 11:56 am • linkreport

You may want to blame the litigious society of the 21st Century. The second that WMATA encourages people to do something that could be deemed as unsafe, it welcomes a host of court cases resulting from that policy.

by A. P. on Dec 24, 2013 12:01 pm • linkreport

This is the 21st Century. Build better escalators.

Metro doesn't build escalators. They buy them. And they can only buy what the market sells.

by David C on Dec 24, 2013 12:19 pm • linkreport

It may be the case that they're designed not to be walked upon, but in some stations if folks didn't walk up the escalators then no one would get out! At some stations (Judiciary Square comes to mind) the volume of commuters who detrain at the station is greater than the escalators can handle on their own, meaning the station platform rapidly fills up if folks don't walk up.

by Moose on Dec 24, 2013 12:47 pm • linkreport

The only people who stand on the left are tourists and other newbies to the system. Some writing or logos on the escalator isn't going to magically make them stand on the right and walk on the left.

Maybe people should just try asking people to get out of their way? Usually works pretty well.

by MLD on Dec 24, 2013 1:10 pm • linkreport

You can also just push people out of the way,. This usually works best when coupled with a nice profanity (something original that people will remember).

by David C on Dec 24, 2013 1:31 pm • linkreport

My general strategy is to get annoyed and then forget about once a few seconds have passed and I'm off of the escalator.

by drumz on Dec 24, 2013 1:36 pm • linkreport

If metro cant encourage people to walk, due to some asshat lawyer, they can still say "stand on the right" which implies that the left is to be used for other business.

by JJJJ on Dec 24, 2013 4:01 pm • linkreport

Does it forbid painted footsteps?
No. Last time I was in The National Air and Space Museum in Washington the escalators had yellow foot prints on the stair treads.

by Sand Box John on Dec 24, 2013 10:34 pm • linkreport

Just one more e.g. of Metro incompetence. It's BS that they can't display signs asking passengers to stand on the right and walk on the left.

by Rightsman on Dec 25, 2013 12:21 pm • linkreport

More and more people are using backpacks. I remember in London they had signs posted showing that a person with a backpack was actually taking the space oftwo people. With everyone looking at their phones, wearing ear plugs, they are totally ignorant of their surroundings. I personnaly am tired of being bumped by a backpack and I push back when I get hit by one. They need signs to inform passengers.

by Christine on Dec 26, 2013 10:44 am • linkreport

I'd rather some paint at the bottom/top of escalators telling people to move AWAY from the escalator. That is a legitimate safety risk, whereas the saying "excuse me" to the person standing on the left is just an annoyance.

by Catherine on Dec 26, 2013 2:10 pm • linkreport

The best intervention is to say "excuse me" and pass. Works every time and the only investment needed is a mix of civility and assertiveness, along with an attitude of not expecting other people to do what you want.

by Rich on Dec 27, 2013 8:58 am • linkreport

Wow. People are obsessing about a pretty minor issue. There are lots bigger problems to tackle at Metro than standing right and walking left.

Give it a rest.

by Mr. Transit on Dec 27, 2013 1:48 pm • linkreport

People (tourists and non regulars) standing on the left can be annoying. But what bothers me more are people who "begrugingly" stand to the right. These are people who know the deal , yet they stand to the right only enough to say they are technically standing to the right, but not enough to actually allow people to get by on the left without either bumping them, or having to ask them to move, as if they were actually standing on the left.

You need to make yourself small, people. If my 6'-1" 230 pound wide self can do it without inconveniencing others, than other less bulky people can do it too.

by EB on Dec 28, 2013 6:29 pm • linkreport

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