Standing on the Left? You Must Be on Vacation
The afternoon rush on Metro is generally more intense than the morning rush, with many commuters galloping through the busiest stations as if they are catching the last train that will ever run. Those running up and down escalators aren't easily categorized. One recent day at Metro Center, a young man scurried down an escalator, followed by several middle-aged men in ties, a disabled woman with a cane and an elderly man with a shock of white hair that bounced with his every step.
Tourists, meanwhile, seem content to stand and be carried by the machinery, oblivious to the stream of regular riders trying to move past them. Mothers load double strollers onto escalators, blocking everyone behind them. Groups of teenagers form circles on the moving steps. A couple of senior citizens from Tiffin, Ohio, stand side by side, holding hands.
"They don't know the rules of engagement," said Mozella Boyd Johnson, 44, a secretary for the District government, whose steady jaunt up the steep Dupont Circle escalator Thursday afternoon came to an abrupt end when she encountered a pair of men -- one carrying a heavy backpack and bedroll -- on a step near the top of the escalator. Johnson was dressed for walking, her feet in white sneakers beneath her pink floral dress, but she just resigned herself to ride the rest of the way.
Recent offenders include 21 fifth-graders from Westview Elementary School near Muncie, Ind., seven New York State Police troopers in gray dress uniforms and the Eichel family of Chapel Hill, N.C.
"I just didn't think about it," said Jim Eichel, a 57-year-old general contractor, who was standing to the left of his 84-year-old mother on the escalator from the Red Line platform down to the Orange and Blue Line platform at Metro Center at the height of the evening rush Thursday. Startled by an "Excuse me" coming from somewhere behind his shoulder and aided by a tug from his teenage daughter, Eichel tucked himself into a spot on the right side of the escalator.
"I didn't see a sign, did you?" B.J. Harris asked Jenyne Nelson as the two Realtors waited for an Orange Line train at Metro Center. The women, visitors from the U.S. Virgin Islands who were headed to see the new National World War II Memorial, had been scolded moments before by a regular Metro rider for blocking her path on an escalator. "She told us, 'If you're on the left side, please walk,' " Harris said. "I moved over and she said, 'Oh, tourists!' "
Years ago, Metro bolted small metal "Stand to Right" plaques to some escalators but then removed them, concerned that the message was an implicit endorsement of walking, something the transit system officially condemns. "We advocate that people do not walk, for safety reasons," said Goodine, adding that escalators are the place where most injuries occur inside Metro stations. Escalator injuries are declining but are still a major concern, he said.
"Unfortunately, we have this practice, and it's universal," Goodine said. "What are we going to do? Post a pedestrian traffic cop at every escalator? We have to come up with a way to address this, but right now our policy is, to ensure maximum safety, stand, don't run or walk, on the escalators."
Try telling that to Elizabeth Holbrook, 55, a paralegal from Arlington County. One recent afternoon, Holbrook barreled down an escalator at Metro Center, only to pause briefly at a cluster of five 20-somethings. She expertly insinuated herself into an empty space to her right, then to her left, weaving around them, like a running back.
"I've become quite an expert," she said. "I'm just very fleet of foot. Sometimes I say, 'Stand to the right.' Sometimes I just charge."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
At Metro Center, escalator riders block the left side of the steps, inadvertently keeping walking traffic from passing.
(Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
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