Railway officers at Sydney’s Wynyard Station had a eureka moment in 1939. They discovered that a commuter could cover the 66 escalator steps between York Street and the station in as little as 18 seconds if they ran, shaving half a minute off the 48-second standing journey. They painted a notice on top of the escalator to explain the new rule: “Ride on the left, run on the right.”
Eighty years later, we are still riding escalators this way and, despite what our moral compasses may tell us, we are flat-out wrong. As this short video from YouTube channel Cheddar explains, standing on one side and walking on the other is, for starters, unsafe. Escalator steps are wider, taller and steeper than stairs and, as such, trickier to cover at a brisk clip. Worse, the uneven weight distribution caused by dividing into standers and walkers – what the video describes as “The Split” – puts a great deal of strain on escalators, which could lead to dangerous breakdowns.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the best way to go involves standing in the middle and holding the handrail. Even just standing on both sides of the escalator is better – and not just for safety, but for efficiency, too. When London’s Holborn Station tried this in 2016, they saw a 30 per cent increase in escalator capacity. The problem is, The Split is now an ingrained practice, one that’s hard to unlearn. Cheddar offers a potential solution involving the use of mimes, but hopefully just the threat of mimes will be enough to make us change our ways.
Photo: Opening the new escalators at Maple Leaf Gardens, 1955. City of Toronto Archives