Friday, January 30, 2009

Why Londoners are standing on the wrong side of the escalators

stand+on+leftYou would recall (without too much difficulty, I hope) that I posted about the quirks of the London Underground some time back.

There was this part about how commuters of London Underground stand on the right when on escalators even though UK drivers drive on the left side of the road.

In that post, Feanor asked about the relevance of the point that I was trying to make. Well, since I encountered this issue on a daily basis and continued to be intrigued till this day, I was thinking that it'll be apt for me to do a graphical representation of what I meant.

My mind handles graphics better, that's the way my mind's wired anyhow. The red arrow dictates the path of the commuters who choose to walk a tad faster because of the fact that they are rushing for time or they are the only sober ones around.

Oh, by the way, the graphical representation below is set out on a plan view.


If the same logic that applies to roads in the UK is to govern the 'law of the escalator', should we stand on the left side of the escalators as well? Now, that's something for us to ponder upon this weekend.

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Emm said...

Hey - maybe you can answer a question for me - which side of the pavement am I meant to be standing on???

FĂ«anor said...

Hey man. Neat graphics, although I'm puzzled by why your commuters all look like Mexicans riding bicycles. :-)

xiaocangshu said...

I remember one Letter from Kyoto column piece in ST one Saturday, explaining that people in the Kanto area in Japan (including Tokyo) stand on the left of the escalator, because in the past most of the people there were samurai, and standing on the left of a staircase allows them to draw their swords if necessary. Kansai (including Osaka, Kyoto) was primarily occupied by merchants, so people stand on the right to protect their valuables in their right hands.

xiaocangshu said...
This is the article. However, it points out that escalators were introduced only after sword carrying was banned, so that was what I couldn't remember.

lina said...

deep question. :P

Stefan said...

I noticed the very same thing here in Sydney, Australia this weekend. Are people really that oblivious to everyone else? I always make a point to move the "slow lane" when standing on escalators. Yet another pet peeve of mine.


Stefan from

Moriel said...

My subway/metro/underground experience comes solely from Washington D.C. and London, so what I mostly noticed in London was that the setup in general was more confusing, and that included the escalators. In D.C., it's pretty strictly defined: there are signs up saying which side is for standing and which is for walking, and people who don't follow those rules will probably get yelled at by rush-hour commuters who do follow them. In London, even though the tube system was just as busy, there were no similar signs or rules, so there seemed to be people standing in all kinds of places they shouldn't be.

Of course, I might also have some distinct lack of fondness for the London Underground that's not entirely fair, because it was mostly my fault that I ended up hauling three rather large suitcases between Heathrow and Gatwick...but it couldn't have been that difficult to have a few lifts in the tube stations!

Thomas said...

Same here in Japan. But at least it seems that there is some sort of system. Here it's more of a free-for-all.

That was interesting Xiaocangshu.

Bruce said...

I just found your site. I am an American Expat living in Davao, Philippines. I enjoy reading about other expats and how they assimilate in their new home country as I do in my site. I hope you will read mine and comment if something strikes you to do so.

C K said...

We should be standing on the left side of escalators in order to be consistent with UK's right hand drive.

But I wouldn't be in a hurry to do just that - the last thing I want is to be shove down the escalator!

HAHA, I was actually thinking about why Mexicans...

Thanks a million for the link!

When I was visiting a castle in Colchester, the guide over there was telling me about how staircases are always winded up towards the right. That's so that the defenders (of the castle) will have the advantage of balancing themselves while welding their swords on the right hand.

Come to think of it, that may call for another graphical representation.

And maybe you can help crack this one. :)

There are consistent reminders through the voice messaging system in London Underground to remind us to stand on the right though. Generally, people do adhere to this rule.

Curiously, the same doesn't apply to malls' escalators though.

I know how you feel about the lack of lifts. I think drilling elevator shafts would probably paralyse the entire system, something that Londoners are not prepared to put up with, at least not now.

Consider taking Heathrow Connect. The last time I checked, it costs 6.90 quid. It's definitely worth it.

Really? I'm surprised. I mean, the Japanese, of the the people, should be quite fastidious about having a system in place, no?

Thanks for dropping by. Will check out your site now. Cheers!

C K said...

Nearly missed your comment there. Yep, I'm with you about standing on the slow lane as well, though I'm usually on the fast lane as that's probably the only exercise I get these days. lol

Btw, great site you've got there. I absolutely love the layout.

::karinuslai:: said...

pretty much all countries who introduced driving/carriages etc after the time of swords normally stay on the right side. so stands to reason that since escalators came into being after the need to carry swords, the UK "reverted" back to the instinctive type rather than carry on retaining old biases that were very, very road-based.

Alternatively, they stand on the right because by the time escalators were invented it was generally thought that one should *hamper* use of one's sword arm rather than free it =p

Emm said...

Yeah, I understand the inconguity between the escalators and the side of the road we drive on but I meant, which side of the pavements are we meant to be standing on? I do just fine inside train stations but find myself taking alternative routes to work to avoid busy pavements (sidewalks) and to avoid being bumped by people!

C K said...

The reason why I was puzzled about this is due to the fact that the escalators back home functions the opposite way though S'pore, like the UK, does left hand drive.

Surely the escalators back home are installed after the era of swords carrying, no? :)

Though there's no hard and fast rule, I noticed that most would walk towards their left. Do you notice otherwise?

Manz said...

Great post... but I bet the only ones to pay any attention are those who are already conscious of the issue! (LOL)

I saw Stefan represented Sydney, Australia... and I can tell him that YES people really are that oblivious to everyone else! I'm so greatful that I don't need to use the train system anymore (touch wood!).

From my understanding, we have a state rule which stipulates communters are to stand on the left (just as we drive on the left). This is not just for the sanity of those in a rush, but for emergency reasons - a clear path should be accessible!

I always let out a loud "excuse me" and that usually woke them up to what they were doing.

Love your diagram - I've used an analogy when in a crowded place... I end up feeling like a ball on a pinball game!! Being pushed from left to right - your diagram made me think of that :)

C K said...

State rule? Now that sounds really serious. Is there any penalty for flouting that rule?

If there's one thing that I like more, it would be that the escalator be made wider.

Emm said...

I think there is no hard and fast rule which is why I almost get knocked down on Borough High Street! And I am not a small girl either!

C K said...

lol, I realised that Londoners are always in a hurry. There was this time when I hurt my foot and could only move at a snail's pace, I was literally pushed and shoved around.

And I'm not small either. Hey, Feanor, do I hear you sniggering?

Emm said...

...and then there is always the possibility that Londoners are a bit too rude sometimes!

William Wallace said...

Interesting post and I wonder why it came about that Londoners stand on the right side as opposed to the left. I'm sure there is some crazy reason that has been forgotten in the midst of time....

C K said...

I think xiaocangshu posed a link above to the reason why. You might like to take a look at it. Cheers.