Miscellaneous Blog Posts

Hey escalator lambs

A week ago I was in Shanghai, attending the China Cycle Expo. It was technically my second time to visit mainland China, though the short day trip to Shenzhen from and back to Hong Kong last time doesn’t really count.

Of course my 7-day stay in Shanghai doesn’t make me an expert, but I did see and understand some stuff about China. If you have heard about the country having no order in traffic on roads, no bottom limit in food quality if you go for the cheapo, or no bottom limit in bike quality likewise, that’s probably true. Yet, there is at least one thing about China I absolutely fell in love with; there was something about the way people rode escalators.

I’ve always wished upon stars that the kind of people who never doubt the perceived golden rule that you need to stand on one side when using an escalator so as not to block those in a hurry shall die, as soon as possible.

I have done my share of walking, or even running, on escalators. That’s only optional, though, when there is space. Plus, I’ve never heard any escalator manufacturer or railway operator officially recommend such practice. If you take it as a natural right, or standing on one side in order for it as an inherent obligation, that only goes to show your lack of thinking, as if too much “reading the atmosphere” exercise replaced your brain with air.

In retrospect, the watershed moment that turned me into this escalator monster happened out of the blue at Shinagawa Station in Tokyo a few years back. I got off Yamanote Line and was going up on the escalator from the platform, heading for Haneda Airport. I had some luggage but moreover my foot hurt, or was broken to be precise, which hindered me from standing straight on one side leaving enough room for the hurrying type. There comes this man in a suit who starts bitching upon getting blocked. I’m nice enough on any day to advise him to run up the solid stairs if he were in a hurry, a simple point that he never seemed to understand on that sad day.

Generally speaking, it is not quite likely that the chance of your missing the most important moment in life without running up that escalator greatly exceed that of someone carrying large luggage, being able to hang onto the handrail on either specific side due to physical reasons, needing space for crutches, etc. Besides, it’s usually faster to run up the stairs if you are serious.

In China, or at least in Shanghai Metro, people would just flock around the escalator and get on it as a single organic entity. Sometimes, when crowded, each step may be occupied by two people standing side by side. It was not abnormal that I had such a comrade on the same step, young or old, guy or girl, something that almost never happens in Japan. I see that’s just normal the Chinese way as much as it should be anywhere, considering the even smaller personal space aboard the train anyway.

So here is the most important point: Escalators generate the highest overall transporting capacity when people flock in a big single line to ride them. That’s just based on my observation and contemplation so I’d be happy if human engineering or traffic engineering experts could discuss and simulate and agree or disagree, but I’m quite confident. For example, though no valid comparative statistics here, Sapporo seems to have longer lines before escalators at train and subway stations, which also take much longer to digest, in comparison to Shanghai, a city with about 13 times as much population. All that’s for the sake of a slightly faster travel time for the few that run, who are not even serious runners that use the stairs.

One concern I have is it seems some Chinese locals with some kind of high awareness don’t take the status quo positively. In the worst case, I may visit China again only to find a newly established “manner.” That’s my fear. I don’t think such self constriction with compliance-minded attempts thought out by fools should suit China. It should suit none, I know, but I know a case where such attempts have gone so far that it makes you wonder if it’s too late to return.