Don’t walk on escalators

People who walk on escalators might say that they do it because they’re “in a hurry,” but we indolent standers know that they only do it to make us feel bad. In an unexpected—and counterintuitive—twist of fate, though, it turns out that the walkers are actually the true societal drain. Research shows that escalators are utilized more efficiently when everyone just packs on and stands, instead of allowing people to choose to walk.

Usually people naturally create two paths on escalators. One (to the right in the United States) is for standing, and the other is for walking. The Guardian reports, though, that during a three-week trial at the Holborn Tube Station (a transfer station used by 56 million people per year) in November, staffers from the municipal group Transport for London attempted to disrupt this norm. Employees used megaphones to ask people not to walk on the escalators. They sent unmoving staffers up and down the escalators to block walking traffic. They even asked couples to stand next to each other and hold hands to discourage the usual walking lane.
Research from the University of Greenwich in 2011 indicated that on average about 75 percent of people will stand on escalators while the other 25 percent walk. Right away you can see how reserving half of an escalator’s real estate for only one-quarter of the people who use it might not make sense. And people tend to create more following distance on the walking side of the escalator versus the standing side. Transport for London’s simulations preliminarily showed that using a whole Holborn Station escalator for standing would allow 31.25 more people per minute to board the escalator (112.5 people on the escalator per minute versus 81.25 people per minute with a walking lane).

In fact the three-week experiment in 2015 had even better results than the Transport for London researchers predicted based on the Greenwich research. For example, one escalator that normally transported 12,745 people between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. on a typical week was able to move 16,220 because of standing rules. But the Guardian reports that commuters pushed back, calling the trial “stupid” or yelling, “This isn’t Russia!”

The approach asks people to do something they are often bad at: delaying instant gratification in the interest of a greater good. A lot of the benefit of universal standing has to do with reducing the bottleneck at the entrance to escalators. The more people can get on per minute, the less time they have to wait to get on in the first place. For walkers this may not intuitively feel like a worthwhile trade-off, though. And creating specific sides for walking/standing is a very ingrained behavior.

Michael Kinsey, a fire engineer who co-authored the 2011 study and has been working on escalator safety at the British consulting firm Arup, told Slate that attempting to change rider behavior for short escalators may not be worth it. “However, for longer escalators, more people typically prefer to ride due to increase in energy expenditure/physical ability of walking,” he said, “Which means less people are using the walker lane. … So for longer escalators, if the main aim is to increase escalator capacity, then asking people to ride on both sides will achieve this.”

Some cities like Tokyo and Hong Kong have considered initiatives for years to reduce escalator walking. But these discussions have mainly been motivated by safety concerns. Peter Kauffmann, a transportation engineer at Gorove/Slade Associates, said he’s not surprised that Transport for London had a lot of resistance to its three-week trial. “Implementing any kind of pedestrian rule is difficult, and here you have the situation where the rule has to be variable, since when things are uncongested riders are going to want to walk to save time (and you’ll want to accommodate them for customer satisfaction).”

He added, though, that the Transport for London data is gratifying for researchers like him who had previously only been able to study escalator ridership optimization with computer simulations (as in a paper Kauffmann co-authored in 2014 titled “Modeling the Practical Capacity of Escalators”). “It’s exciting to see somebody actually testing this,” he said.
It’s hard to change people’s habits, but if it will really get them to work more quickly, they might warm up to the idea of standing patiently on an escalator. Then again, people can get pretty emotional about escalators. “People in a hurry generally do not want to stand still as there is feeling that constantly moving means they are making progress,” Kinsey said.
“We all want to get on the train, in order to reach our destinations; and yet we can’t get to the train,” Hamilton Nolan wrote on Gawker in 2013. “Why can’t we get there? It’s so close. Why not just make our way to the platform in a hasty but orderly fashion and get on the train? Because this motherfucker up here wants to stand still on the escalator.” The stakes are high.


What you should NOT do in the USA…

A person who is not an American needs to be careful about making sweeping critical comments — “You Americans…” Think how you would react if someone, even a friend, criticized a member of your family. Americans often rally together when they feel attacked. Let an American offer the criticism.

Do not expect that you know Americans from movie or television stereotypes. Most Americans do not hunt, own guns, attend fundamentalist churches, or go to NASCAR races, for example. There are many variations in accent, political inclination, and opinions.  Being open to surprises rather than “knowing” everything already is usually a good approach when traveling.

Do not assume that ethnic minorities do not see themselves as “Americans” — you will risk appearing patronizing and insulting.

Many words that might be acceptable in other languages are considered improper — a sign of either ignorance or a lack of cultivation — in general company.  Do not use obscenities to service personnel, police officers, teachers, or strangers.

Most Americans will respond to a person who is lost and needs directions. Tourists are often pleasantly surprised by the conversations that they have with Americans.

Do not ask personal questions of others — money is not (however it may have been in the past) an easy topic to discuss; never ask someone how much he or she makes or if they are “rich.” Sex, health, weight, and other personal topics should not be brought up except among close friends — and even then there are limitations. Avoid religion and politics, except as an abstract or academic discussion.

Never use a racial or religious epithet or make jokes about a group of which you are not a member. Do not point out people who look “different” or stare at them.

There is an acceptable physical distance to keep. If you are forced (e.g., in a crowded elevator) to be closer, do not make eye contact. Keep your hands to yourself.

Smoking is not allowed indoors in many places, or outdoors (NYC parks, for example). It is not considered sophisticated or “liberated,” anymore.

Do not ask too many questions about a person’s family.

Do not assume, as one foreign visitor once told me, that all Americans had ancestors who were criminals that were shipped here (!).

Do not harp about how the Chinese are taking over America and will rule the world — just like the former Soviet Union, or Japan, or a United Europe was supposed to do, not that long ago. Furthermore, most Americans do not want to rule the world — just talk to some real people and you can find that out. American nationalism can sound childish, like sporting chants, but it is not as serious as Nuremberg rallies or North Korean propaganda.


What can you learn about a person by just looking at their face?

I was an FBI agent for 30 years and observed criminals’ behavior when they lied.
I’ve also researched extensively about body language, facial expressions, and verbal indicators of lying. I’ve found that knowing signals that indicate someone is probably lying to you can be helpful to law enforcement officers, teachers, parents, anyone who is wondering about whether to establish or continue a romantic relationship, or anyone who deals with salesmen, repairmen, or contractors, that is, anyone who has contacts or dealings with other people.

I decided to share my knowledge with others, in order to promote more honesty (or less successful lying) in the world. So, I wrote a book titled, How to Spot Lies Like the FBI. In it, I discuss facial expressions, body language, and verbal indicators which likely signal someone is lying to you.

In regard to the facial indicators, you can see that someone is stressed, nervous or lying from observing many signals or “tells.” To eliminate false positives, one should first interact with the person with small talk and by asking general questions. That way you can determine their base or normal behavior. It’s noted that some people show signals that might be connected with lying if they happen to be nervous, jittery or anxious in their normal behavior. And people’s reactions can be affected by allergies, drinking, using certain medications or taking drugs. Also, a small percentage of the population includes pathological liars who will likely feel no stress from lying and probably won’t exhibit the signals of it. And some people will have particular psychological disorders that will change their behavior from the norm. So, watch for the baseline behavior, then look for about three lying indicators that they don’t display regularly, before you conclude they’re lying. With a little practice in making observations, you’ll be quite certain when someone has shown a true lying signal.

Most people react in predictable and observable ways when they lie because they’ll get chemical changes in their bodies, they’ll have physiological responses, and/or they’ll have mental reactions. For instance, a chemical reaction causes peoples’ faces to itch when they lie. If they touch or scratch their nose or cheek or rub their finger under their nose, those are indicators of fibbing. The mouth often goes dry, and you can see their reaction to that when they do a sucking action, usually with pursed lips. They may also lick their lips to alleviate the discomfort. Excess mucus is often produced while lying, so people will either cough several times or clear their throat a few times.

They may chew on or bite their lip. Their eyes may dart from left to right, back and forth, which is an ancient biological reaction when a person faces a dangerous animal or human adversary, and they’re trying to find an escape route. And if they blink several times in a row, faster than the normal blink rate of once every ten or twelve seconds, they’re most likely lying. Also, when you ask someone a question that affects them emotionally, they may show a “microexpression” which shows their true reaction. This only lasts for about 1/25th of a second before they show an expression that they want to display to you, so you have to watch sharply for these instances.

People will often touch or partially cover their mouth with their hand before or after they lie, or they’ll sometimes place a finger beside their mouth during your conversation. Lying people will often perspire more than the conditions call for. You may notice moisture on their foreheads or cheeks, and they’ll sometimes rub the back of their neck because of the discomfort of excess sweat there.

People will sometimes rub a knuckle into their eye socket after lying to you. Their heart rate will increase, their blood pressure will accelerate, and their breathing will quicken. You may notice the pumping of blood in their carotid arteries get faster, they may get short of breath, and their faces and/or cheeks and ears may redden. Also, some people, more likely women, will blush after telling a whopper.

There are other facial indicators and a good many body movements and ways people talk to you that are helpful to know about along these lines. You should probably read a book that discusses facial expressions, body language, and verbal indicators. And I wish you good luck in your future.


When Is It Inappropriate To Answer Your Cellphone?

These days, it’s almost impossible to escape the near-constant presence of cellphones in our daily lives. 92 percent of Americans now own one, according to findings published by Pew Research. It comes as little surprise that people tend to answer their phones everywhere imaginable – the library, the park, the cinema and so on – locations many people consider inappropriate.

The American public certainly have varying views about when it’s ok or not ok to answer their cellphones. Phoning while walking down the street, traveling on public tranportation or waiting in line are all viewed as generally ok by the vast majority of people. However, at a restaurant, six out of every ten respondents said it is generally not ok to answer that buzzing or ringing cellphone.

Surprisingly, some people (just 5 and 4 percent respectively) even think it is generally ok to take a call at a movie theatre or during a church service.


Fighting Christmas traditions

Christmas is more than two weeks away but the holiday spirit is already in full swing in cities across Europe. From London to Vienna, the streets are decorated with twinkly lights, shoppers are drinking mulled wine — and in one country, actors in blackface are taking part in a controversial annual pageant.

The celebration of the feast day of Saint Nicholas on Dec. 5, known as Sinterklaas, is the biggest children’s holiday in the Netherlands, one that can even overshadow Christmas. Key among the festivities is a character from from Jan Schenkman’s 1848 children’s book, Saint Nicholas and his Servant — a minstrel-like helper called Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete.

In the days leading up to Sinterklaas, actors playing Saint Nicholas visit towns and cities throughout the Netherlands accompanied by revelers in black face, dressed in servants’ costumes, complete with enlarged red lips and wooly wigs. Although the imagery harks back to a time of overt racism, the holiday is so popular in the Netherlands that annual sales of all Sinterklaas merchandise – including candy, figurines, t-shirts and other products touting images of Black Pete – can reach 515 million euros.

This is particularly problematic as the Netherlands becomes more multi-cultural. People of color, many from former Dutch colonies like Suriname, Morocco and Indonesia, account for a fifth of the country’s population.

Now, just as the Black Lives Matter movement is protesting symbols of inequality in the U.S., activists are challenging the Black Pete tradition with community events, documentaries, and non-violent demonstrations at the annual parades. In 2011, the resistance to Black Pete entered the mainstream when the police violently arrested artists Quinsy Gario and Jerry Afriyie, who are both of African descent, for wearing t-shirts that read ‘Black Pete is Racism’ during a Sinterklaas parade in the Western city of Dordrecht.

Two years later, Gario and others filed a lawsuit against the city of Amsterdam for facilitating activities with racist elements by handing out permits and grants for the annual Sinterklaas parade. Five hundred people showed up to the hearing. “The city council was flabbergasted,” says Gario, who was born in a former Dutch colony in the Caribbean before moving to the Netherlands. The local council sided with them and voted to ban the annual parade in 2013, but their verdict was overturned by the Dutch high court.

Though the protests against Black Pete are non-violent, they have garnered fierce antagonism from authorities struggling with the conflicting demands of the Dutch traditionalists and the activists. At a demonstration in the city of Gouda last year police arrested more than 80 protesters. Anti- Black Pete activists have received death threats, and Gario says he has been advised to get private security because of the vitriol directed at him.

Over the years, Amsterdam’s city officials have suggested changing certain elements of the tradition, such as using different colors other than black face, or doing away with the gold hoop earrings, symbols traditionally associated with slavery (the Netherlands was among the last to abolish the practice in 1863). Some traditionalists have argued the black face is not Pete’s skin, but soot from the chimney he slides down on.

But many see these concessions as inadequate. “They came with a solution of ‘colored Pete’ or ‘chimney Pete’, but ‘chimney Pete’ is an excuse to use black paint,” says Mitchell Esajas, 27, founding member of activist group Kick Out Zwarte Piet. “And ‘colored Pete’ is the racist colonialist symbolism of people of color helping this white rational man.”

One solution, he says, is to replace Black Pete with non-human helpers like Elves or Smurfs. Fellow activist Afriyie, who was arrested in 2011, now holds an alternative children’s Christmastime festival, free of Black Pete.

However the tradition of Black Pete still has support at the highest level of the government. When a report by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) said Black Pete was a vestige of slavery and called on the Dutch government to work on getting rid of negative racial stereotypes this year, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte dismissed the recommendation that the figure be changed. “Black Pete, that already says it, he’s black,” he said. “We can’t change much about that.”

The Dutch people seem to agree. A 2013 poll shows that a majority of people in the Netherlands still want Black Pete: 91% said the tradition should not be changed to suit the tastes of a minority and 81% were opposed to changing Pete into another color.

Even so, activists have some reasons to be optimistic. Dutch schools in Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht are phasing out Black Pete from their Sinterklaas celebrations. And after years of silence from the political class, Dutch Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher took part in a debate touching on the future of Black Pete in August.

Asscher, also minister for social affairs and employment, said in August the country must eventually reinvent the character in a way that respect both those offended by the figure and those who want to preserve a decades-old custom. “Changing an old tradition takes time,” he said.