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Transportation Technology

Should Cities Install Moving Sidewalks? 698

theodp writes "The real problem nowadays is how to move crowds,' said the manager of the failed Trottoir Roulant Rapide high-speed (9 km/h) people mover project. 'They can travel fast over long distances with the TGV (high-speed train) or airplanes, but not over short distances (under 1 km).' Slate's Tom Vanderbilt explores whether moving walkways might be viable for urban transportation. The first moving sidewalks were unveiled at Chicago's 1893 Columbian Exposition, and at one point seemed destined to supplant some subways, but never took root in cities for a variety of reasons. Vanderbilt turns to science fiction for inspiration, where 30 mph walkways put today's tortoise-like speed ranges of .5-.83 m/s to shame. In the meantime, Jerry Seinfeld will just have to learn to live with 'the people who get onto the moving walkway and just stand there. Like it's a ride.'"
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Should Cities Install Moving Sidewalks?

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  • Obesity? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @04:42PM (#32831296)

    Wouldn't it be a better idea for people to walk those short distances, given how fat people are these days?

    • Re:Obesity? (Score:5, Funny)

      by arkane1234 ( 457605 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @04:44PM (#32831316) Journal

      You say that like it's not what is happening... like.. now...
      It's best not to generalize people. Everyone does that nowadays, geez.

      • Re:Obesity? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by OctaviusIII ( 969957 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @05:57PM (#32832630) Homepage
        Oh but it's not happening now in most parts of the US: witness the proliferation of a third rush hour around lunchtime in many parts of the country. Typically, those lunch jaunts are to destinations less than a mile away from the workplace.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Those are probably areas that are not particularly walkable. Hell, stationary sidewalks aren't even omnipresent in the US suburbs, and these people think we should build maintenance-nightmare, energy wasting, moving sidewalks?

          If you want these people to walk instead of drive, the first step would be to tear up the parking lots and install street-level retail where restaurants could be established.

          The only person who would think moving sidewalks are a good idea is a person with a patent for a moving sidewalk

    • escalators too (Score:5, Insightful)

      by butterflysrage ( 1066514 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @04:46PM (#32831374)

      this will just lead to the escalator effect... Rather then continuing to walk up or down the stairs as they move, people just get on and stand still. The same will happen with these walkways, rather then getting on and adding their own walking pace to the 9km/h, they will stand still and get in everyone elses way.

      • Re:escalators too (Score:5, Informative)

        by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @04:52PM (#32831508) Journal

        In Asimov's Science Fiction the walkways had different speeds. You could go 5 miles an hour, or you could step left and go 10 miles an hour, or step left, and go 15 miles an hour, or..... step left and go 100 miles an hour. So it's no big deal if someone just stand there. You can move to the faster track and pass them.

        Heinlein has a similar concept in his "The Roads Must Roll" short story.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Grishnakh ( 216268 )

          This seems to imply an extremely wide walkway. If these things are supposed to go where sidewalks go, then they're not going to be more than a few feet wide or so.

          Also, even with a really wide walkway, you wouldn't be able to pass anyone, as no one would be walking, they'd all be standing still on their particular track, and happily blocking everyone behind them, just as they do now on roads. So walking for exercise would be a thing of the past.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Moryath ( 553296 )

            No kidding. Allow a 5-foot wide walkway to account for lardasses with humongous posteriors (and you'd have to otherwise they spill into adjoining lanes and hit people), and your top speed 30-mph is then 30 feet in... that's as wide as a 3-lane highway, requiring 60 ft plus any servicing areas on the sides to account for both directions.

            And yeah, I already get mad at people who get on a peoplemover and stand still in front of me. Imagine the road rage of everyone standing behind the aforementioned lardass, w

            • by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @05:49PM (#32832498)

              Lemme guess. I'm modded "flamebait" because some fatass didn't like being called a lardass, right?

              It's reality. The people using the walkway are going to be these people []. Five feet may not even be wide enough in some cases.

              • Re:escalators too (Score:5, Insightful)

                by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @12:27AM (#32835602) Homepage Journal

                Lemme guess. I'm modded "flamebait" because some fatass didn't like being called a lardass, right?

                No, you're being modded flamebait because you show absolutely no respect for the elderly or frail who don't dare walk lest they hurt themselves.

                With two artificial hips and a fused spine, I look as healthy as the next man, but I tell you, the speed of which I have to get off the walkway is fast enough to pose a real problem. Yes, I stand still and gather strength for that (for me) monumental jump.
                Never mind escalators, where I simply can't lift my feet high enough to climb the over-sized steps.

                The next time you feel irritated by someone standing still, chill. And seek professional help if necessary, because becoming agitated over something as unimportant as that can't be healthy.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by bitMonster ( 189384 )

          H. G. Wells, When the Sleeper Wakes, 1899.

          His concept had multiple speeds as well, but even that was predated by the working design at the Chicago World's Fair [].

      • The same will happen with these walkways, rather then getting on and adding their own walking pace to the 9km/h, they will stand still and get in everyone elses way.

        Ever try to explain that to one of those people? They have no concept of relative motion.

      • Re:escalators too (Score:5, Insightful)

        by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @04:55PM (#32831592) Journal
        Really? Does that bother you? Because I thought that's what pretty much everyone does, at least in America. I'm trying to remember the last time I saw someone (besides me) walking up an escalator. They are there for convenience, after all, not for helping you get somewhere faster.

        In Japan they have a cool solution: the escalator ends up having two lines. The people on the left keep walking, and those on the right stand. I guess for that to become a custom you'd need escalators that are typically crowded, which most in the US are not.

        Speaking of stairs and escalators, England really needs to catch up on this one. When I was riding the train there I kept having little old ladies ask me to carry their luggage for them up the stairs. I can't imagine what wheelchaired people do.
        • Re:escalators too (Score:5, Insightful)

          by easterberry ( 1826250 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @05:10PM (#32831880)
          That's what we usually do here in Canada. Unless it gets really busy because inevitably someone in the "walking lane" will be a dick(or bitch lets not be gender exclusive here) stand still and back up the entire system which basically screws the whole line up for a while.

          The worst is when you're trying to get down to the subway, and it's in the station and if you could propel yourself forwards you could make it but the idiot in front of you apparently just doesn't give a shit and you miss the train.
        • Re:escalators too (Score:4, Insightful)

          by nelsonal ( 549144 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @05:20PM (#32832046) Journal
          Washington DC's metro has an informal but strongly enforced walk on the left, stand on the right policy, but because of the slope and length of their escalators, they run slower than average. If you come here and stand, people will swear at you, and most of them will bump you when they pass.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          When I was riding the train there I kept having little old ladies ask me to carry their luggage for them up the stairs. I can't imagine what wheelchaired people do.

          They tell the little old ladies "No."

        • Re:escalators too (Score:4, Insightful)

          by nofx_3 ( 40519 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @05:35PM (#32832282)

          They aren't their for convenience, they are clearly there to move people faster. I ride mass transit to work in the morning and home in the afternoon. Both stations have escalators, both have very narrow staircases. The escalators are there so that a large volume of people (10 commuter train cars worth) can get in or out of the station quickly, since we all arrive at the same time. People completely ignore this and just stand their like a lummox. It is frustrating to no end. I can't even take the stairs because they are one or two people wide at best, and there is always someone lumbering up them extremely slowly.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by hb253 ( 764272 )

          I guess you've never been to New York City and environs.

          Everywhere I go (NYC subways, PATH trains, stores, etc), people stand on the right on escalators and the left is reserved for people who walk up. Yes, there's an occasional clueless person, but a polite "excuse me" usually gets the message across.

        • Re:escalators too (Score:4, Insightful)

          by spitzak ( 4019 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @05:55PM (#32832594) Homepage

          Climb on the left and stand on the right is true even in US escalators, at least busy ones in transit places such as train and subway stations. All I can guess is your only US experience is suburban mall escalators, where I agree everybody just stands still.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Locke2005 ( 849178 )
      It would be a lot cheaper to make people walk than to pay the lawsuits from people that fall getting on to or off of a 30 mph walkway! That and outdoor environments and mechanical equipment do not play well together. Just ask your local mall what they spend every year just cleaning gum off of the escalator.
      • Re:Obesity? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by phoenix321 ( 734987 ) * on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @04:59PM (#32831654)

        Chewing gum is *the* single thing I truly despise in our free societies. It is ridiculously cheap, ubiquitous, popular - and more stable in the environment than granite. People chew that stuff all the time and spit it everywhere - all floors, streets, corners, sidewalks of all cities are riddled with that decades-old, positively eternal chewed chewing gum.

        Just look at the streets on a busy intersection: thousands of flattened chewing gum remains, outlasting the tarmac they are embedded in by decades.

        Sometimes when I look down on the city floor for some reason and notice the gum, I have a hard time regaining the faith in personal freedom, pushing back the urge to cry for Singaporean laws against that filth.

        Honestly: what part of individual freedom demands that people can spit this stuff everywhere?

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by bit9 ( 1702770 )
          I empathize with you completely. Just the other day I was waiting in line at the McDonald's drive-through for my morning coffee, and the person in the car in front of me, upon being handed his food, promptly took a large wad of chewing gum out of his mouth and casually tossed it out his window, as carelessly as if he was dropping a grain of sand onto a beach. I've seen people do this same exact thing with trash (fast food wrappers, empty soda cups, etc). Every time I see someone do something like that, I am
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by WillDraven ( 760005 )

          Well there's our solution to all our road durability issues: just make them all out of chewing gum!

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by spasm ( 79260 )

          I did a project a few years ago in San Francisco where we were trying to map where old bus stops had been - we knew the blocks but not the precise locations. Turned out to be surprisingly easy - look for the sudden increase in black smears of decades old gum on the sidewalk where there's currently no bus stop or other obvious reason for bunches of people to be hanging out. That's where the bus stop used to be, about 80% of the time. We're talking bus stops that got moved or removed in the early 70s, and

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by internic ( 453511 )

          For some reason all I could think of after reading the parent post was this:

          Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen it's true face. The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout "Save us!"...

          ...and I'll look down,

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Shados ( 741919 )

      if you don't put those, they'll take their car. The amount of people who'll take a car to go what would have been a few minute walk is staggering.

    • Wouldn't it be a better idea for people to walk those short distances, given how fat people are these days?

      Say that to yourself when it's a hundred degrees out and your boobs, ass, and crotch are drenched in sweat. In shape or not, it'd be convenient. That said, it'll never be implemented because of lawsuits. Someone's precious snowflake will figure out a way to have the machine try and eat them, and they'll be shut down.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Also, given how expensive it would be we'd also be better off finding some real use for that money. Planting a few trees, instead of concrete, building some green buildings [], preventing obesity?
    • What if lard butt is in front of you moving slowly. Wouldn't you want that blob on the meat conveyor instead so you can move faster?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by MrEricSir ( 398214 )

      No of course not, people apparently need to be allowed to "make their own decisions" according to a lot of libertarian-esque wharblgarbl on the internet these days -- even if those decisions are really, really poor.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by boristdog ( 133725 )

      Yeah, if you can't walk at least 1km, you should probably have a wheelchair.
      If it's just because you're lazy, then you should be walking anyway.

      Personally I think bus stops are too close together. Put them at least 1/2 mile apart and ONLY stop at corners in between if the passenger is disabled.

    • by sznupi ( 719324 )

      Another idea, addressing the root of the problems with moving around cities, would be simply to not give the city centers away to cars.

    • Wall-E, not just science fiction.
    • Re:Obesity? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @04:54PM (#32831544) Journal

      Wouldn't it be a better idea for people to walk those short distances, given how fat people are these days?

      I don't know if this is sound logic. If I were to believe your reasoning, I would assume that we would see a lower average of obesity in a city like New York City where walking is a large part of transportation but it turns out to be similar [] to other places:

      New York City's adult obesity rate was 20% in 2003, compared to 23% nationwide in 2004. The national average has nearly doubled from 12% in 1993.

      I could just as presumptuously argue that people will only walk a certain amount -- no more, no less. And that if you put in these sidewalks it would only increase their range of desired travel that is acceptable to them (usually on a time based limit). So if I'm only will to walk 10 blocks and suddenly these sidewalks put me twenty blocks one way or the other, I've greatly increased my distances. And if you look at the history of the interstate and roads, it is evident than increasing a populace's means of transportation and freedom will increase your economy.

      And what caused it to double since 1993? Not a revolution in transportation, I'll assure you that. Maybe a revolution in how we do business over the internet and a number of other factors more important than new transportation technologies.

      I don't think the introduction and mass spread of automobiles in the early 1900s caused obesity. I personally think that what we eat and how we are raised to be sedentary are bigger problems than not walking everywhere. There's a number of contributing factors and deciding not to investigate new modes of public transportation for high concentrations of citizens is just not a sound decision.

      It might be tempting to blame technology for our laziness but let's face it: we've been pacified and are perfectly content to sit around to get fat--moving sidewalk or no moving sidewalk.

      • Re:Obesity? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SashaMan ( 263632 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @05:54PM (#32832572)

        Be careful what you do with statistics. My guess is that New York City's rate is only slightly lower because, in addition to having a lot of walkers, it has a lot of poor people. For example, Manhattan has a much lower obesity rate, and while I could state that this is because Manhattan is the most easily walkable of all the boroughs, it's much more likely that it's because Manhattan has the most rich people.

        See [] for some good information

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        The massive dependence on cars did contribute to the huge obesity problem the USA now faces. I visited Irving, TX, a few years ago (my first visit to the US), and was astounded by the complete lack of opportunities to walk, and the utter, complete dependence on cars. There were a couple of eateries/restaurants on the other side of the highway, from our hotel, but there was no way to legally cross the freeway (though the restaurants were just across, clearly tempting the hotel patrons to come over and eat).

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bill_kress ( 99356 )

      Your post doesn't seem very well thought out.

      At 30mph someone could travel the 2 miles between his bus-stop and office in an amount of time that makes it not double his commute time--and get additional exercise, whereas that may take a prohibitive amount of time if he has to walk.

      My commute turns from 25 minutes by car to 55 by MAX light rail--a large part of the difference is walking the 1/2 mile between the max station and my destination 4 times a day.

      When I ride my bike it's much faster, but I don't want

  • by TheOldBear ( 681288 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @04:42PM (#32831302)
    unintentionally blank
  • NO. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) * <> on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @04:44PM (#32831336) Journal

    NO. Jesus, walk a little bit people. If you've got to get somewhere faster, ride a bike, take a cab, take the train, drive your car.

    Putting moving sidewalks everywhere is about the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Forget the exercise argument: imagine the fricking maintenance costs!

    • by Dahamma ( 304068 )

      I'm impatient so I always end up walking on the airport moving walkways anyway. This way I'd get the same exercise and still get to my destination twice as fast.

      But yeah, maintenance would be insane. Have to admit cabs are a much more distributed, if inefficient, system...

  • On hackaday today! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AnonGCB ( 1398517 ) <7spams&gmail,com> on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @04:45PM (#32831340) [] Similar concept, personally I'd rather have the moving sidewalks because there is less user input and therefore less possibility for things to go wrong (crashing into each other).
  • Isn't this the problem that Segways were supposed to fix?

  • Hong Kong has one (Score:5, Informative)

    by grahamsz ( 150076 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @04:47PM (#32831402) Homepage Journal

    The Central Mid-Levels Escalator [] moves you up and down about a half mile in a busy hilly part of the city. It has its critics but it seemed to be pretty well used when i was there.

  • by easterberry ( 1826250 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @04:48PM (#32831406)
    I have a theory. America is attempting to commit Manifest Destiny by making its people so fat that is becomes so massive that the rest of the world just collapses in on it. Black hole style.
  • by gandhi_2 ( 1108023 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @04:48PM (#32831420) Homepage

    I can't be the only one here to think of strip-running or Asimov.

    • by nomadic ( 141991 )
      There was also a Heinlein story based on this idea; though like many Heinlein stories the cleverness was overwhelmed by the tiresome social commentary.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Asimov's Caves of Steel was the first thing I thought of.
  • No.

    Now move along.

  • Large Cities (Score:3, Insightful)

    by imunfair ( 877689 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @04:52PM (#32831510) Homepage

    For large cities an idea like this would be very neat. I live near Chicago, am not fat, and would love to be able to travel around the city on 30mph moving walkways. Ideally they would be structured like a highway with multiple lanes, one going 10mph, next one over is 20mph, fastest is 30mph.

    Something like this would have maintenance costs sure, but it would also remove a huge load off public transit, and reduce taxi traffic majorly. You'd really only need a shuttle for people with large/heavy items, or elderly.

    Think about how pleasant it would be if you could stroll down the street at 30mph directly toward your destination, rather than having decide which subway or bus will get you to your destination in a roundabout way (possibly even needing to change bus/trains mid-trip).

    Of course this idea will never happen because of the cost and effort - but it is a lovely utopian idea.

  • Hong Kong has a very long 800m moving walkway. I've also seen shorter ones at airports and some shorter ones for inclines in Sydney Australia near the music conservatory. [] []

  • Actually, I'm with Jerry, but couldn't resist the O'Brien ref. When I catch a flight, rare these days as I can't stand flying anymore, but when I do I'm constantly annoyed by the fatties who sit with their bulk in the middle of the moving walkway forcing you to brush by them and catch some of the sweaty foulness on your clothing because you need to catch a flight while they are there to... ride the damn walkways I guess.
  • Imagine multi-block long ziplines!
  • Airports (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MachineShedFred ( 621896 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @04:56PM (#32831600) Journal

    Moving walkways are great in airports, where you have stuff you're carrying with you, and they are sheltered from weather.

    Moving walkways outdoors, where sidewalks are supposed to be, would be a maintenance disaster; especially in a time where many states and municipalities are drowning in debt already.

    Get off your ass and walk.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @05:04PM (#32831760) Homepage

    Nobody has ever come up with a good way to manage speed transitions. Belt joints don't work too well. The clever parallelogram arrangement that starts out wide and slow and transitions to narrow and fast was too complicated. Parallel sections at different speeds haven't been tried since the Paris Exposition in 1900. The few minutes of film of that system show someone falling. There are serious problems with various kinds of shoes, ranging from spike heels to Crocs. People keep falling down on the things.

  • by Rinnon ( 1474161 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @05:04PM (#32831764)
    Seriously? THAT'S the real problem nowadays? It's not climate change or world hunger or war, it's how we can move people around our dense urban environments as fast as possible? Aren't we all moving fast enough already? I mean, maintenance and obesity aside, do we really as a society NEED to get everywhere that much faster? Everyone seems to need instant gratification these days. People have Facebook so they can get instant feedback from friends on when they are hanging out, Employers provide Blackberries so they can call their employees instantly so there is no where they can't be reached. People seem to want things now now now all the time. It seems pretty hard to just stop and smell the roses when you're whizzing by them at thirty miles per hour.
  • by siwelwerd ( 869956 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @05:09PM (#32831848)

    30 mph walkways put today's tortoise-like speed ranges of .5-.83 m/s to shame.

    Can't we at least get this in consistent units? For instance, "80,000 furlong per fortnight walkways put today's tortoise-like speed ranges of 3000-5000 furlongs per fortnight to shame".

  • Not a good idea (Score:5, Informative)

    by eples ( 239989 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @05:21PM (#32832054)
    The escalators in the NYC subway system are notorious for breaking down and costing a *lot* of money to maintain. In 2008 there were 169 escalators, and overall each averaged 68 repair calls a year []. It is unlikely that it would be different above ground.
  • Health Nuts (Score:5, Funny)

    by smitty777 ( 1612557 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @05:52PM (#32832546) Journal

    Simple solution - for all you health nuts that are complaining about obesity...just run on the thing backwards.

    There, fixed that for ya.

  • by he-sk ( 103163 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @07:21PM (#32833526)

    They can travel fast over long distances with the TGV (high-speed train) or airplanes, but not over short distances (under 1 km).

    It's called a bike. Learn how to use it, FFS!

    And to preemptively counter the usual complaints...

    Sweat -- The best way to drastically reduce sweat-drenched clothes is not to wear a backpack or shoulder bag but use dedicated bike bags that are attached to the bike rack. Also, if you're breaking into a heavy sweat after 1 km (a casual 4 minute ride), you should ride your bike more often to get rid of that excessive weight.

    Safety -- again, the article talks about an urban environment and distances under 1km. Unless you live in Gaza you should be able to find a safe and quick route.

"My sense of purpose is gone! I have no idea who I AM!" "Oh, my God... You've.. You've turned him into a DEMOCRAT!" -- Doonesbury