Something interesting recently caught my eye and has forced me to think more about stairs than I ever have before. To explain: I use public transport on my daily commute and to get from street level up to platform level in the train station I use two sets of stairs. Running parallel to these stairs are pairs of escalators (one going up, the other down).
Perhaps I’m going into too much details? Anybody who has ever been to an airport, bus depot or train station knows what I mean. Anyway…
Most people (85 – 95% *) use the escalators instead of the stairs. Nothing inherently wrong with that I hear you say. However, this week one of the escalators wasn’t moving. There were no signs or barriers preventing people from using it, however everyone had switched to using the stairs. I find that odd. Why switch to the stairs when you could just as easily walk up the steps of the escalator? It looked to me like they were deliberately avoiding the escalator. It would appear that people are only willing to use the escalators when it is moving.
The thing I find even more surprising is the herd mentality that most people appear to adopt. Maybe I’m reading too much into it? Perhaps it is just one of those naturally occurring events that nature throws at us now and again. Personally, I think it is a tiny indicator into the human condition…
* Based on my own personal observations.
>>>>>>>>>>>>> UPDATE <<<<<<<<<<<<<
Ok, after several comments on this post about ‘step height’ I decided to check it out. Granted, given the location and circumstance, it is not a valid scientific study, however I do believe it will suffice.
It was suggested that step height was a major factor in people opting to use the stairs instead of a non-moving escalator. So at great personal risk (of denting my pride more than anything), I checked the step height. I did this two ways:
First, I counted the number of steps on the escalator and stairs. If there are the same number of steps on each then they must be a similar height (as both escalator and stairs rise by the same height over the same distance).
Second, I just looked at them both. Granted they weren’t absolutely the same height, but close enough as to make hardly any difference. One thing that was striking was the depth of each step on the escalator, probably half as deep again.
However, what ruled out the step height suggestion to me was the conclusion of the wonderfully titled research paper: “Odd Sensation Induced by Moving-Phantom which Triggers Subconscious Motor Program” [link]. It is an interesting read…
These results suggest that it is not step-height but stepping on an escalator itself that is essential for the emergence of the odd sensation.
I will freely admit to feeling the sensation described in the paper. However it hasn’t effected my walking/running up the escalator while everyone else uses the stairs. No doubt when the escalator is fixed people will go back to queuing and standing on the escalator steps while they are whisked off at 0.5m per second!
My (probably very obvious) conclusion is that people, on the whole, are lazy and if something happens that changes the natural course of things they get freaked out and will copy what everyone else does.