Whenever I visit Washington, D.C., or London, I’m always struck by behavior on those two cities’ subway systems. Due to the deep depths of the stations, Riders exiting Metro or the Tubes often do so on escalators, and Washingtonians and Londoners seem to grasp that the right is for standing while the left is for walking. Those unfortunate souls who do not pick up on this fact often find themselves chided by those who wish to pass.
On staircases in those cities, behavior is respectful as well. People manage to stay to the right on two-way stairwells, and everyone gets along fine. There are seemingly fewer incidents of stair rage as harried subway riders don’t have to push through the streaming crowd to get to their trains. In New York, though, staircases are anything but organized.
On a daily basis, I travel through the Times Square subway station, and it is, for lack of a better word, a mess. The stairs leading up from the IRT platforms have no order, and straphangers stop at the top to get their bearings. A recently-arrived Shuttle means wave after wave of people assaulting the staircase, and fighting through that crowd can be nigh impossible. To reach the street, some people walk up the right and others the left while those hoping to descend are left waiting, impatiently tapping their feet at the odd behavior.
Today, New York 1’s Tina Redwine tackle the staircase problem. “How many people have raced for the train and missed it because a wall of riders coming up the subway stairs blocks them from getting down?” she asks. “The answer is most.”
New Yorkers drive on the right, walk down the street on the right and the MTA encourages them to keep to the right when walking up or down subway stairs. And many riders seem to want to oblige. But the temptation of saving a few seconds can be too great. Someone dashes to the left and the crowds often follow. “It is like a stampede of animals going up and down the stairs. It is very dangerous, people are very rude. We just need some type of organization,” says a rider.
Some riders want the MTA to hire staff to enforce the common courtesy of staying to the right. “Have signs,” one says. “Just direct people the right way because it is frustrating.”
In fact, the MTA does have signs at Borough Hall and Court Street from a pilot project a few years back. But it didn’t work well enough for them to implement system-wide. So some riders hope for kindly conductors who wait, while other riders fight back and push. “My attitude is if they don’t get out of the way than sorry, I am not responsible. They’ve got to stay in their lane,” says a straphanger.
No one really knows why New Yorkers act like this. One person offered up this nugget to NY1: “It’s New York. Anything goes.”
There is no good solution to this. Some people shove their ways down stairs with well-placed shoulders. Others wait for the crowds to subside, missing their trains in the process. It won’t get better without a concerted effort from everyone, and that effort likely isn’t coming any time soon. The maddening crowd goes on.