Standing on the left is against the natural order of things, no matter what TfL thinks, says Jonny Ensall.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that when boarding an escalator, you stand on the right and walk on the bloody left. This is, in fact, one of the simplest and most reassuringly constant rules of London life. What with technology and climate change and London’s seemingly inevitable future as a shiny, skyscraper-packed toytown built entirely for Chinese pension fund managers, we can at least say: Yes, you do stand on the right, and walk on the left. It should be London’s motto: projected on to the National Theatre; carved into Buckingham Palace’s stonework; tattooed on to Boris Johnson’s neck.
Which explains why everyone’s so freaked out that, at Holborn station, TfL is currently trialling a new system. One where commuters stand on BOTH sides of the escalator. That’s the right side AND the left side. If you’re struggling to get your head around this concept, just imagine an escalator that has become blocked by a stag party from Middlesborough, clogging up the whole thing like vomit in a Travelodge sink. It’s basically that.
Why is TfL doing this? To ease congestion, is the claim. The theory being that, by allowing standing on both sides, more passengers will be able to ride at one time. Staff with megaphones have been cheerily explaining this new rule to rush-hour commuters, who’ve been grumpily taking to Twitter to decry it. It’s a bit like changes to travel during the Olympics. But then at least, when we’d been diverted for ten minutes through an obscure part of London Bridge, Greg Rutherford won us the long jump.
This, surely, is meddling with the atomic bonds that keep us together. This is playing God! Who cares that what they’re suggesting kind of makes good sense, because there are more fundamental issues at stake. Like the fact we’re all bloated with Christmas sandwiches and it’s the only exercise we’ll get between now and the first guilty use of our new gym membership in January. Plus, London’s built on a whole ethos of progress at any cost. If we can’t shave 20 seconds of our journeys at the expense of our fellow commuters then this city’s no better than, say, Leeds, where everyone still drinks in Tiger Tiger and thinks Kaiser Chiefs are a really cool band.
Perhaps we should change – become more zen about this, and a whole load of other things besides. Hang back. Take a moment. Give more time and space to other people. Maybe schoolchildren of the future will look back on the ‘walking era’ with incredulity. ‘Londoners once thought the plague was caused by bad smells, and that you should be able to walk on the left of the escalator. Just imagine!’
But that is not the London I signed up for. TfL take note – I won’t stand for standing. I mean that only figuratively, of course, because there’s no way I’m disobeying anyone who has an actual megaphone. Hopefully, though, we’ll all be snotty and intractable enough about this small change that, good idea or not, TfL will be forced to abandon it.
Come on London, who’s on my side?
Want more ranting and raving? Read Sarah Sumeray's column about why we should celebrate London's buses.