On Tuesday, The New York Times decided to reignite the age old debate of walking versus standing on escalators. And do you know what the paper concluded? “You shouldn’t walk on escalators.” This is a patently incorrect conclusion for at least four reasons.
Before we delve into our very detailed and organised argument in favour of walking on escalators, let’s discuss some historical context. Mankind invented machines to make our lives easier. A simple wheel helps you roll heavy loads to a destination. A computer makes complex calculations with remarkable speed and ease. An escalator helps you ascend to higher ground more quickly and efficiently.
Machines aren’t supposed to do all the work for us. As the etymological origins of the word suggests — it comes from “mekhos”, the ancient Greek word for “expedient” or “remedy” — machines are here to help. An escalator is essentially a combination of simple machines that make going up easier, but they’re only as helpful as your energetic legs allow.
Thing is, escalators could represent the epitome of human laziness if we let them. After all, the escalator was invented in the late 19th century, at a time when futurists believed that moving platforms would one day carry pedestrians around entire cities without any effort on the human’s part. This idea never came to fruition, in part, because people realised that it’s impossible to innovate and dominate while you’re standing still. (This my theory, and it’s based on a hunch.)
For the purposes of this post, however, we need to address some very practical reasons why walking on an escalator is far superior to standing. Hear me out.
1) Walking is faster than standing.
The number one reason why you should walk on escalators: You’ll get to the top faster. There are studies that appear to refute this claim. In 2002, a theoretical study on escalator capacity on the London Underground found that the classic “stand right, walk left” rule actually led to more congestion than the very lazy “everybody just stand there” method. But do you know what’s faster than some people standing and some people walking? Everybody walking.
Now, some eggheads would argue that mathematically everyone standing cuts down on congestion and can lead to more consistent travel times. They will throw some statistics in your face, and if you’re into that kind of thing, you can read The Times’ ludicrous take on this matter. Common sense, however, makes one thing perfectly clear: Walking is faster than standing, no matter what.
2) Walking makes you pay attention.
Escalators can be dangerous. Don’t believe me? Re-watch this video of the woman who falls into the machinery when an escalator falls apart, or this video of a giant escalator at shopping centre unexpected slamming into reverse, sending shoppers hurdling towards the ground. While some hand-wringing officials insist that walking might be more dangerous than standing on an escalator, it seems glaringly obvious that walkers are paying more attention to their surroundings than standers.
Running is not encouraged in any scenario, since even running on solid ground can lead to disaster. Running on escalators when drunk is especially discouraged, and there’s even a study from the National Institute of Health that backs up this advice. Walking carefully and paying extra attention on escalators, however, now that’s a plan any responsible adult can get behind.
3) Walking is healthy.
There’s no need to bust out any fancy studies for this one. Walking is really good for you. Ask your doctor. No seriously, go get a checkup and say, “Doc, should I be walking on a regular basis?” Bet you five bucks she says, “Hell yes.”
Standing is not as healthy as walking. Sure, it’s slightly better for you than sitting, but you should never under any circumstances sit on an escalator. Go ahead and get that heart rate up, though. Work those quads. Walk up those moving stairs and marvel at how much more quickly you reach your destination. If it’s your thing, watch the step count on your fitness tracker go up as you do it. Actually, don’t do that. You should pay attention when walking on an escalator.
4) Walking encourages people to stay out of your way.
At the end of the day, everybody who gets on an escalator is trying to get somewhere — even the lazy people who stand there like blank-eyed sheep. There’s nothing like the urgency of an escalator walker to get these listless commuters to move to the side. Try walking with purpose up an escalator and just watch how clueless standers marvel at your self-confidence and tenacity. You might even try stomping a little bit so that they know you’re coming.
Escalator industry insiders hate this. The head of Washington DC’s Metro system recently suggested that all riders stand on the station escalators because they’re “very sensitive pieces of equipment”. Screw that noise. You don’t walk gingerly down a footpath so that you don’t wear out the concrete, do you? Go ahead and march proudly up that escalator, and if your impressive stature wears out the parts, then we can just build a new escalator to replace it. Just think how many jobs that would create!