Traffic Part II: Rules That Don’t Work
Traffic is all about rules. But which rules work, and which don’t?
A smart planner will always be observing rules and seeing how they might work better. Lifts, for example, have never been optimized for how people organise themselves inside the lift. Buildings will often arrange lines for getting into a lift, but not for what goes on inside the lift.
Watch how people get in and out of lifts. Do those who get in first move to the back of the lift, or do they sidle up to the controls and wedge themselves there like some amateur lift operator? If they do, do they look around to see whether other people in the lift have pressed for their floor, or do they make it hard for them to reach the buttons? Do people try to position themselves in the lift according to the floor they’re going to? Lifts are rarely self-organised systems, for some reason. A smart planner would organise lifts lines so that these kinds of issues were optimized. But I’ve never seen it done properly.
Indeed, even in a highly sophisticated city like Hong Kong there are rules that don’t, in my view, work. On subways there are two lines drawn on the platform on either side of the carriage door so passengers can wait for others to alight between them before boarding. This system seems like it should work, but it doesn’t, because there’s no benefit for each side to hold back and wait for all passengers to alight.
What happens is that individuals on one side of the doorway will start to edge forwards, pushing the alighting passengers towards the other line, and preventing them from alighting. By the time the passengers have all alighted, the pushy line is already aboard and have taken the best positions, leaving the other line to scramble for seats. There’s no advantage for following the rules, and no point in the two lines collaborating. I’ve never seen the system work properly. Planners should allocate a single line on one side of the door, with passengers alighting on the left and boarding passengers queuing on the right.
Planners won’t figure this out, of course, if they’re not using the system they’ve designed. If they do, they would have spotted this problem on day one.