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Escalating Tensions

I might be completely in the right, but I don’t think that I am completely in the wrong.

Escalators: The unwritten rule, stand on the right, walk on the left.

Recently I have been a little more impatient with those not following this. Now I don’t yell, scream, swear or the like, however I have started saying to the person standing (unless both lanes of traffic are standing room only) Excuse me, are you walking up? Usually I just get a surprised look then the person will either walk up or move to the right.

This morning a woman planted herself on the left. Since I couldn’t walk around, which I will do if the coast is clear vs. smack everyone that I need to pass, I did go. “Excuse me, are you walking up?” She said no. Then I asked could she move to the right as that step was empty. She response was to not yell, but say in a loud nasty voice, “Why do I have to move, why can’t you just walk around?” All this as she is running up the rest of the way.

So instead of stepping to the right, she yells. Personally I don’t think that I was in the wrong. Ehellions? An over reaction on her part. 1222-16

{ 223 comments… add one }
  • Kirsten January 3, 2017, 3:16 pm

    If there are signs up asking people to stand on one side, walk on the other, then it was foolish of her to stand on the wrong side. But if the escalator was otherwise empty, the OP could easily have gone around and none of this altercation would have happened. As the OP says there was no space to pass, the woman was rude not to move and even ruder to shout.

    I’m not sure why so many people are suggesting people should stand still on escalators and not walk up/down. Firstly, although they’re primarily for people to get up/down without climbing, they do make it quicker for people choosing to walk. And secondly, you don’t get to tell strangers they don’t need to rush or they should stand still and relax when you have no idea what’s going on in their life.

    • HET January 8, 2017, 11:35 pm

      Thank you! Exactly this. Many have said “why are you in such a rush? Someone might not be capable of moving!” Well, why do you assume your leisurely pace takes precedence over others’ need to get somewhere quickly? You don’t know why they’re in a hurry, so to assume they have no time management skills comes off a bit smug and superior, if you ask me. Maybe their nanny was late. Maybe their car didn’t start and they have to take the train when they’re already running late. You don’t know. So be kind and make their travel go more quickly by moving aside and not impeding them. I have never seen a person walking up an escalator bump or jostle anyone they’re passing, because the people who are standing are doing so all in a nice orderly line…on the right-hand side.

      I have to wonder, for the few dozen people who have never heard of this unwritten rule, will you now pay a bit closer attention when you are on an escalator in a train station or airport? I wager if you look with an eye to seeing it, you *will* notice that most people standing still are standing on the right-hand side. Aha! Bingo. It was there for you to see the entire time.

  • gemma156 January 3, 2017, 3:44 pm

    After having a stroke I have a need to hold onto the right side of the escalator, otherwise I lose my balance. I try to be aware of others around me and if I can I move up a step or two if needed. If I am holding a few items in my left hand walking up the escalators becomes an unsafe activity, it’s just the way it is now. The narrower the escalator the more difficult it is just to get on it, once on, I just hold on to the right side and work at keeping my balance.

  • AnaMaria January 3, 2017, 4:26 pm

    Her reaction was rude, hands down. Not much you could do but forget it and move on.

    Just a friendly pointer, though: some people may need to be on the left for whatever reason. I am left-handed and it’s just an instinct for me to grab the left railing- normally if I catch myself I try to move to the right, but if I’m unsteady for any reason (high heels, carrying something heavy etc) I feel so much safer holding on to the left side. Someone with paralysis, a mildly injured ankle or shoulder, etc might need to use the left side. Give people the benefit of the doubt!

  • hellster315 January 3, 2017, 6:32 pm

    Lol! I have never heard of the stand on the right, walk on the left rule. I feel stupid now. 🙂 I usually stand on the right, but if I’m with my kids, or even a friend, we’ll stand side by side, not behind each other –especially with my littles. I’m thinking this is one of those etiquette issues where you can do it IF everyone read the same book!!

  • Lisa Hughes January 3, 2017, 8:03 pm

    “Stand on right, pass on left” is a posted rule in many public transit systems. To me, it feels as if it’s expanded to other situations because it makes sense. There are times in a mall when I’m relaxing and browsing, and am content to just ride. There are other times when I am running an errand and don’t have extra time, so I want to get upstairs, get to the store, find my item, buy it, and get out again, and, yes, I will walk up the escalator (assuming it is wide enough), hoping that people are staying right. And I might ask, “Excuse me, can I get by?” if someone is standing on the left. I would take the stairs, but they are often hidden away in a back corridor.
    I’m surprised by the people chastising the OP for not being willing to wait. Yes, there may be good reasons for someone standing on the left, but she may also have good reasons for wanting to move quickly. And she does say that she will go to the right around someone when she can, but in this case she couldn’t. I wouldn’t ask if someone is walking, but I would (and have) asked if I could get by.

  • Semperviren January 3, 2017, 8:13 pm


    This was interesting. The gist is that a study conducted at Holborn station indicates that long escalators can move more people more efficiently if everyone stands. They are trying this out to relieve congestion problems (and reduce escalator accidents).

    People accustomed to walking up the escalator don’t like it one bit. Human nature being what it is, I think they’re going to have difficulty convincing people accustomed to walking up the escalator to stand, because 1) habits are ingrained and people just don’t like change, 2) it doesn’t matter what the study shows, people don’t believe things when the facts contradict their beliefs/ desires, 3) they are not concerned with the overall efficiency and safety of the system, they are focused on themselves and their individual goal, and 3) there is a certain gratification factor in Getting There First that they’ll be reluctant to give up.

    Where I live, escalators are mostly encountered in malls and department stores, not so much in travel or commute situations and this simply isn’t an issue. A person hustling up the escalator asking others to move aside in this situation would come off rather self-important and obnoxious, because it just isn’t done that way here.

    • Semperviren January 3, 2017, 9:19 pm

      To clarify, when I say “this situation”, I’m referring to malls, stores, etc.

      • NostalgicGal January 4, 2017, 2:37 pm

        It also depends on the width of the escalator. Most of those I have met in department stores and such are pretty much one person wide, so you can do little other than stand UNLESS the escalator is empty. Wider ones, usually met at a mall or in a terminal/station, are wide enough for walk and stand. So it depends on the elevator. As said I have a few motion sickness issues and being in control of my movement helps a great deal (if I drive the car I’m in I have almost no issues, I’m in control of the movement-if I’m a passenger, I have problems) so walking the escalator helps. If it’s too crowded or too narrow or the rare time I decided to take the rolling carryon ON with me instead of find an elevator, I must stand. And I am most careful about get on and get off so as not to tangle or trip….

  • Molly January 3, 2017, 8:24 pm

    I have never heard of this unwritten rule. Are you sure it’s common knowledge?

    • lnelson1218 January 4, 2017, 9:25 am

      There is at least one German city that I have been to that actually has “walk” and “stand” on the stairs themselves in their underground system.

      When I visited a friend in Stockholm, Sweden while nothing is written she warned me to follow the “stand on right, walk on left” the Swedes apparently aren’t subtle in their annoyance. That is a city where people want to get from point a to point b fast.

    • Joanna June 5, 2017, 1:02 am

      Never heard of it either. Perhaps it’s a nationality issue. Where I am in the US, escalators are only wide enough for one person, and there is definitely no unspoken rule about passing.

      If the “rude” woman in the story didn’t know this rule either, she probably thought the OP was a jerk.

  • Helen January 3, 2017, 9:16 pm

    Unless there was a sign stating those standing should stay on the right, OP had no right to tell someone else how to use the escalator.

  • Jerry Lomashewich January 3, 2017, 9:20 pm
    • NostalgicGal January 6, 2017, 12:17 am

      Unless the rail and steps are misaligned and the rail is going at a different speed. I’ve met a few. in which case you have to keep letting go of the railing.

      • HET January 8, 2017, 11:40 pm

        I’ve never held a handrail that moved at the exact same pace as the stairs or walkway. If I’m standing, I *always* have to readjust my hand position.

  • stacey January 3, 2017, 9:40 pm

    Maybe a systems view is best. If you’re in a giant machine where efficiencies and inefficiencies can make all the difference- you do your best to move it along. If you’re in an environment where there isn’t much concept of the need for speed, it would be rude to huff over a slower pace. But I think it really is rude to correct someone generally. If you’re going to try to gain someone’s cooperation, a reasonable and polite (ie… not entitled) approach is best.

  • Iris January 3, 2017, 10:12 pm

    The OP was fine, but I would tweak the request slightly in future, personally.

    To me, “Excuse me, are you walking up?” is something I would say to enforce a rule that I assumed the listener was familiar with. OTOH if your goal is just to get to the top of the elevator I would simply go with “Excuse me, can I get past, please?” or “Excuse me”.

    For example I might say “Excuse me, are you seeing a teacher?” to a student in the (well known) out of bounds area near the staff room, but simply “Excuse me, can you move over there, please?” to a student that was doing nothing wrong but needed to move for whatever reason.

  • Quantum January 3, 2017, 11:50 pm

    My toddler is frightened of escalators and always wants me to hold his hand going up or down. I stand next to him- not behind, in case he falls and throws me off balance (I experience dizziness whilst on moving machines. I need the railing as well..) – nor in front of him, in case he falls all the way back down and sustains injury or worse.
    Escalators have rules that children need to be attended to, usually by an adult having to hold the little one’s hand. If I’m on an escalator and someone’s running up, I’ll move, but even that had once almost caused our falling down. I try to use stairs or even elevators if possible.

    Safety above everything.

    • PWH January 4, 2017, 8:21 am

      This must be a common childhood fear. I remember calling escalators alligators when I was little and I would always ask my Mom if we could take the stairs or elevator instead. If we had to take the escalator I would stand at the top waiting for the right opportunity to step onto, what I perceived to be, a safe spot. I was always afraid of ending up between two steps and falling.

      • NostalgicGal January 4, 2017, 3:27 pm

        Hence I was not allowed onto an escalator until I was four, so my walking and balance were good and I had long enough legs to do the step on and step off.

  • Kate January 3, 2017, 11:56 pm

    Late to this one, but in Australia it’s stand to the left, pass on the right and it’s a fairly well known unwritten rule. People usually don’t get offended if they are standing on the right and are asked to move.

  • oregonbird January 4, 2017, 12:56 am

    Escalators offer many people a moment to put their thoughts in order or take a brief rest during a long day. Escalators are safer when everyone is moving at the same pace, and if the OP needs to move faster, then its on them to carefully pass the people letting the machinery do its job. I question the need to arrive at the top two seconds faster than everyone else!

  • Cat January 4, 2017, 1:27 am

    All it takes is one lunatic who doesn’t like being told what to do to push you down an escalator.
    In the days when people had good manners, you could ask someone to stand to the right. Today, I would not try it. People get shot and killed over parking spaces.

  • EyesToTheSkies January 4, 2017, 1:31 am

    My thought is that it varies by country, which side of the escalator you stand on. In Sydney, it’s stand on the left, walk on the right. In the UK, I believe it’s the opposite. Heck, in Sydney we have a high-traffic mall where the escalator is all stand; if you want to walk, there are stairs on either side.

    Whilst the lady was rude, it helps to keep in mind that not everyone knows the local context. I wouldn’t phrase it like a question in the future, just a cheery, firm ‘excuse me please!’ to make the point; a lot of people will realise their error and move to the appropriate side.

    • Nora January 11, 2017, 7:18 am

      I believe it’s related to driving patterns. In the US, faster road traffic is in the left lane, so similarly, faster walking traffic is on the left side . Same is true for Continental Europe. For the UK, Australia, etc. where the faster traffic is supposed to be on the right, same thing applies for escalators, moving sidewalks, etc.

  • Kay_L January 4, 2017, 5:40 am

    I’m confused. If she could step to her right because it wasn’t empty, why couldn’t you walk around her? If it’s because the next step up is occupied, then, I think you are trying to push through the crowd.

    It would seem to me the normal thing would be to say “excuse me” and either go around or by the person. But, yes, I think it is rude to tell them what to do, or how to ride the escalator and that that is why you got the reaction you did.

    Because it’s not about the mode of transportation in that moment. In crowded conditions, we are all used to people pushing past. But, if you’re in so much of a hurry, then how do you possibly have the time to object to how someone is riding the escalator, have them correct it, and then go around. That just seems so intrusive.

    Just say excuse me and get on with it!

  • SleepIsabella January 4, 2017, 6:17 am

    Is it out of the question to just be patient? I’ve never heard such a rule, and honestly I find this to be a safety hazard since escalators I’ve seen all my life aren’t wide enough to have two stand wide by side.

  • chechina January 4, 2017, 8:07 am

    Yes, I think the woman shouldn’t have snapped at LW, but I think LW needs to stop asking people to move on an escalator. It’s not a mandated rule that people step aside for those who want to run up/down an escalator; the point of an escalator is for people to just stand there.

    (I usually take the stairs myself since I find escalators slow and I’m an impatient person! It drives me nuts when there’s a place with only escalators and no stairs.)

  • Skaramouche January 4, 2017, 12:11 pm

    Wow! I’m surprised at the number of people who have never heard this rule. Even if it isn’t written in stone, it’s just plain common sense. In North America, we operate on a “keep right” basis so it stands to reason that in general, one should keep right to allow “faster traffic” to pass on the left. Other than a few understandable exceptions (as some of you have noted above), I simply cannot understand people who stand side by side on escalators, walk side-by-side (or heck 4 in a row) on busy sidewalks, etc. Why not show a bit of concern for your fellow man?!

    • Carrie January 4, 2017, 1:41 pm

      Completely agree on all counts. Don’t even get me started on the epidemic of obliviousness and obnoxiousness on the sidewalks!

    • Dee January 6, 2017, 11:40 am

      I’ve lived in North America all my life and never heard of this rule. We don’t have rules for sidewalks, either. We aren’t a small city and we’re situated next to a large city, and there is no rule in the big city, either. You move aside if someone asks you to, you move over if you see someone coming your way, but you don’t have to keep right all the time. People walk side by side all the time. You have to walk that way with little children or older folk. It’s not a problem and we are encouraged to walk for enjoyment and exercise, which usually means with friends or walking clubs, chatting all the way.

    • iwadasn January 6, 2017, 7:42 pm

      I’ve never heard of this rule either, and frankly most of the escalators I’ve seen (in the Chicago area) are too narrow for two people to be side-by-side. If you wanted to walk past someone who was standing, you would have to pretty much flatten them against the railing in order to squeeze past them–which hopefully OP would agree is rude unless it were an outright emergency.

  • I walk too but January 4, 2017, 2:16 pm

    If there was no space to simply go around the woman, what space was the woman supposed to move into?

  • Kovi January 4, 2017, 3:08 pm

    I just walk around. It takes less time than stopping to ask, and much less time if they decide to throw a fit.

  • livvy17 January 4, 2017, 3:41 pm

    Although I’ve seen it (mostly in airports), I don’t think it’s made it to “common rule” status. Therefore, it’s not reasonable to assume everyone knows it. (unlike passing in the left lane on US highways, which is a real rule, and taught in driver’s education, thus is mandated)

    While I do think the lady was rude to shout, the OP could have just walked around, avoiding the entire situation in the first place.

  • Monkeysmommy January 4, 2017, 4:15 pm

    I have never heard of this. I am frequently on escalators at the airport when traveling for work, and would be pretty put out if someone knocks me and my bags down trying to get to the top a whoppimg two seconds sooner.

  • keloe January 4, 2017, 4:37 pm

    The general unspoken rule everywhere is that you keep to the right, and it applies to escalators too. Standing on the left is equivalent to driving slowly in the fast lane. Sure, you can tell people there’s no need to hurry, but what’s the point?

    I rarely walk up escalators, unless I’m running late, but I will run down one if I hear a train approaching the subway station.

    However, people walk up and down escalators all the time, move from left to right, and – honestly – there don’t seem to be any accidents due to people losing their grip and falling down, stumbling, or getting pushed down escalators by enraged strangers for asking to be let through. You must have some different kind of escalators over the ocean.

    • oregonbird January 4, 2017, 10:28 pm

      In 2015 there were more than 15,000 serious injuries and deaths resulting from escalator use. More than 75% were the result of falls. More than 80% of those were the result of ordinary usage, with ‘rough passage’ and ‘excessive speed’ being the main culprits, rather than the horseplay so often blamed.

  • Cicero January 4, 2017, 7:07 pm

    Sorry op, but I think that you were out of line.

    The other woman may have been ride (I don’t know, I didn’t hear her tine). But you don’t have the *right* to pass on the left no matter what, it a unwritten rule which means *if the coast is clear, walk o n the left and stand in the right*. As a daily commuter to/from NYC I can tell you that there are times when couples take up both sides, or tourists are unaware of *the rule* or people have luggage etc and nobody says a word. There are often times that it’s so congested that neither side can move.

    The *only* times that I’ve seen people sort of politely and firmly getting people out of the way is at Secaucus station where we switch trains. often missing one train means being stuck in that station for 45 + minutes, or missing the last express train and having a commute of two hours instead of one. So yes, I and fellow passengers will run through the station and people will naturally move aside.

  • Barensmom January 5, 2017, 1:11 am

    Here in the SF Bay Area, those who don’t stand to the right, especially on the BART escalators, are at risk of being pushed over. There are signs posted to “stand on the right, walk on the left” all over the place, so anyone claiming ignorance will get short shrift from commuters.

    • Jared Bascomb January 5, 2017, 6:47 pm

      Oh yeah, those BART station escalators on Market Street are looong, esp the ones at the Embarcadero and Montgomery stations! And I hate to miss a train because someone is standing on the left.

  • Elena B January 5, 2017, 1:30 pm

    I think this might be a city mouse / country mouse difference and the etiquette varies by where you are. My hypothesis is that elevators that are a critical part of an commute experience (e.g., metro, subway, BART) have a more established rule about this. The side of the escalator varies by country (much like the driving on the road) but in cities there is usually a system in place. Non-urban escalators (e.g., malls) probably don’t have a rule especially since they are less a part of the fabric of daily life.

    Why is this such a big deal? Well if you have to transfer trains/buses/etc and you miss one because someone was standing there when you were ready to go, you’ll see that “be patient” and “stand in the middle” flies out the window. You’re now talking about time away from my family, friends, and loved ones for something that is not really less safe. Nobody is saying push people over and run up – but walking up or down most escalators today is fairly safe. It might be less efficient in the number of people that go through the system, but it effectively segments the population who will walk and those who will ride.

    In this instance, it sounds like there was one space on the right side and not large amounts of open space to pass. The OP was in the right from my experience, but this may be why people think NYCers are rude and in a hurry. 🙂

    • Lacey January 6, 2017, 11:10 am

      I think you nailed it. 🙂

  • iwadasn January 6, 2017, 7:54 pm

    “Unwritten rule” here means “thing I do, so I think everyone else should do it too to accommodate me.” As plenty of other commenters have mentioned, there are valid reasons for people to stand on the left, and someone else’s being in a hurry does not negate them. My grandmother always stands on the left on escalators because she can’t grip a railing very well with her right hand. I’d sure hate to have her run into anyone like OP on an escalator.

  • HET January 8, 2017, 11:59 pm

    I have to ask, for all those who have never heard of this unwritten rule…next time you find yourself in a train station or airport, pay special attention to escalator patterns. My bet is that you will, in fact, notice that the majority of people standing still are standing on the right. You will probably also see people walking up or down on the left, and politely asking people to move to the right. I bet it’s been there in front of you all along. Now you’ve heard of it. If you’re going to stand still anyway, now that you’re aware, please stand still on the right hand side if at all possible (unless you’re in Japan or Australia, apparently! ;-)).

    Those of us who are in a hurry will appreciate you, I assure you!

  • WickedWitchoftheWest January 9, 2017, 9:38 am

    It definitely does vary by country and even by city (for example, Tokyo is stand on the left, Osaka is stand on the right), which understandably causes confusion (and although in Australia a confirmed stand only on the left walk on the right I may occasionally forget in other countries just which side is which).

    I totally agree with the ‘excuse me please’ – use this on the escalators at train stations here and then a ‘thank you’ when people move if they are nice and never any issues and always quick response – and also helps to reinforce what about 95% of people follow for train escalators here (Perth, Australia).

    If space to step around I just do that – especially as there are generally a certain percentage of people who even though they are local who are not often at train stations/other high traffic escalators and so may not have even given passing/the need for speed of some a thought – would only say ‘excuse me’ if I otherwise couldn’t move ahead.

    Of course, if mother with small child, elderly people etc I agree with those who say that safety/feeling of security first and just wait.

  • Xoop January 25, 2017, 5:17 am

    I never hear of the escalators rule “stand on the right, walk on the left” until I was an adult. As kids, we were told to not walk on the escalator for safety reasons. We were also told it was rude to pass people. Though as kids we walked up and down anyway, whenever there was room to pass. We were impatient and thought it was excessively prudent to passively stand. I grew up in the southeastern United States.

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