Should cities install moving sidewalks?

Collective wisdom.
July 6 2010 11:51 AM

Should Cities Install Moving Sidewalks?

An idea for urban transport, cribbed from the airport.

(Continued from Page 1)

But these instances hardly represent the future imagined by Max Schmidt or Robert Heinlein. For one, distances are short. For another, speeds are relatively slow; the American Society for Mechanical Engineers mandates a maximum speed of 4.57 meters per second, though for various reasons, including legal liability, that speed is rarely approached. Another problem is sheer ergonomics—the walkways have to ramp up to speed with minimal "upsetting effect." As a study in the journal Transportation Research noted, "conventional moving walkways have a constant transport speed of approximately half of the maximum pedestrian walking speed. Their speed-range of 0.5–0.83 [meters per second] is considered low, sometimes resulting in a low level-of-service and passengers' impatience." This speed can be improved by actually walking on walkways, but many don't seem to; Jerry Seinfeld singled out for opprobrium "the people who get onto the moving walkway and just stand there. Like it's a ride. Excuse me, there's no animated pirates or bears along the way here."

And as at least one study ("Optimal speeds for walking and running, and walking on a moving walkway," by Manoj Srinivasan, published in Chaos: An Interdisciplinary Journal for Nonlinear Science) has argued, moving walkways can actually result in lowered travel speeds versus normal walking, because of the congestion caused by people standing. (To counter this problem, the "pallet width" of moving walkways, as it known, has actually gotten wider, which allows walkers to pass people with luggage carts.) Even when one is alone on the belt and can walk without interruption, however, the time savings is on the order of a mere 11 seconds over a bit more than a football field's worth of travel. There is also the larger question of whether we want to engineer yet another form of physical activity out of our lives.


Some have begun investigating so-called "accelerated moving walkways," which would promise higher speeds (some three times conventional walkways) over longer distances. The speeds, in addition to the constantly available nature of moving walkways (eliminating wait time), would presumably offer benefits over other forms of transportation. But as was demonstrated by the case of the Trottoir Roulant Rapidethe higher-speed (11 kph) walkway installed in Paris' Montparnasse station—the world doesn't seem ready. (As Collins notes, it was troubled by design and maintenance issues and was taken out of service last year and converted into a regular walkway.)

The Trottoir Roulant was largely viewed as a boondoggle, but it was trying to meet a real need—one that will continue to be an issue for increasingly crowded cities—a need that the project's manager described, in almost DeLillo-esque terms, to the BBC: "The real problem nowadays is how to move crowds," he said. "They can travel fast over long distances with the TGV (high-speed train) or airplanes, but not over short distances (under 1 km)." In other words, in an age of mega projects and mass travel, the trek across the airport can take as long as the trip to the airport.

Read about how  eliminating parking spaces could improve urban transportation and how bicycle highways could increase cycling. View contest entries by clicking the button below.




More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.