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Escalators at Union Station
Photograph: Visit St. Pete/Clearwater/FlickrEscalators at Union Station

Chicago, we need to talk about escalator etiquette

Written by
Clayton Guse

When you step into a public space, it's generally accepted that you're entering a social contract. You implicitly agree to avoid sneezing on anyone's face, hold doors open for the elderly and close your goddamn mouth when you chew. By and large, Chicagoans have pretty good social etiquette, but there's one type of place where the unwritten rules that keep our civilization intact are thrown out the window: escalators. 

Chicago, we need to talk about your escalator etiquette, because it's complete shit. 

Stand on the right, walk on the left

There's really only one rule to follow when riding a set of moving stairs, yet it's all too often given less authority than a middle school substitute teacher who's a year away from retirement. The concept of standing on the right and walking on the left has been around since the invention of the escalator, and is even a part of a CTA courtesy campaign launched in 2015. If you're too tired or lazy to walk up an escalator, it's totally understandable—as long as you're standing on the right side. But if you're one of those people who tends to jibber jabber with a friend while boxing out other travelers, you should look in the mirror and reevaluate your entire self worth. In rush hour, ignorant escalator users regularly cause commuters to miss trains, or simply give up 30 seconds of their day. Granted, there are plenty of exceptions for poor escalator etiquette (the elderly, disabled, etc.), but a vast majority of these offenses are committed out of good old-fashioned apathy.  

Don't be sheepish about enforcing escalator etiquette 

Any time some jerk is preventing people from walking on an escalator, the collective frustration that ensues is palpable. Yet, too afraid to respond to rudeness with rudeness, most commuters stuck in this situation remain silent and let the social offender get away without a good scolding. You can respond to improper escalator use with a simple "excuse me," but if you really want the wrongdoer to feel like a jerk, just give them a good quip like "they're shaped like stairs for a reason" or "have you ever been on an escalator before?" Sure, you may come off a bit abrasive, but making an aggressive remark could help someone realize and change their escalator-abusing ways. 

The 'golden rule' of the escalator should be followed even if stairs are present

A common rebuttal to people complaining about poor escalator use is "if you want to walk, just take the stairs." This seems like a valid argument until you give it more than three consecutive seconds of thought. Walking up the stairs tends to be a bit quicker than simply standing on an escalator. But walking up or down an escalator is like having superhuman powers for a few moments. The boost that a set of moving stairs provides could keep you from being late for a meeting or get you to Doughnut Vault right before it sells out. It's not difficult to abide by escalator rules, and the presence of stairs is no excuse to be an ass.

There might be more important things to complain about than escalator etiquette, but I firmly believe that changing the way that we as a city ride escalators together can cause a ripple effect, in turn making Chicago a better place. Whether or not you ride escalators on a regular basis, I implore you to be empathetic toward your fellow Chicagoans and give a hoot about the social contract you enter into by stepping foot out of your home. 

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