Getting through the day requires you to make a seemingly infinite series of choices between the right thing and the easy thing. Wake up or hit snooze. Knock a few things off your to-do list or keep procrastinating. Go to the gym or start another Netflix binge. Walk on the escalator like a goddamn decent human being, or stand still and incur the wrath of everyone who’s forced to walk around your inconsiderate self. As Jerry Seinfeld put it: “It’s not a ride. There are no talking bears or singing pirates. Move along.”
That should be the end of it. But as the New York Times recently reported, a few well-meaning but misguided souls have attempted to argue that standing is actually better — not just for the stander, but for everyone. The headline of the Times piece: “Why You Shouldn’t Walk on Escalators.”
Admittedly, standing all the way down (or up) does seem to speed up the whole escalator-riding process a bit: In 2015, the Times reported, a team of consultants running an experiment at a London Underground station found that encouraging people to stand on the escalator, rather than leaving one side clear for walkers, cut down escalator congestion by just under a third:
They found that walking up the escalator took 26 seconds compared with standing, which took 40 seconds. However, the “time in system” — or how long it took to stand in line to reach an escalator then ride it — dropped sharply when everyone stood, according to a blog post by the researchers.
When 40 percent of the people walked, the average time for standers was 138 seconds and 46 seconds for walkers, according to their calculations. When everyone stood, the average time fell to 59 seconds. For walkers, that meant losing 13 seconds but for standers, it was a 79-second improvement.
Here’s the problem, though: Faster does not necessarily mean better, and that is because most of your fellow riders have probably not read the research on escalator efficiency. To them, you don’t look like a knowledgeable person who is using a social-science finding as a lifehack; you look like a jerk who’s in someone else’s way. As Seinfeld’s George Costanza might say, we’re living in a society. And the rules of that society dictate, in this situation, that you make a good-faith effort to avoid pissing off a large swath of the people around you. If you really, truly want to make things better, please, just walk.