Wednesday, September 23, 2015

"The moving walkway is now ending; look down."

     
     The future we were promised never came.
     No jet packs, no spandex jumpsuits, no robot maids—that little round vacuum thing just doesn't count.
     Sure, we got certain whiz-bang devices we didn't expect: the phone/camera/computer in our back pockets. But that wasn't really part of the classic Space Age Dream.
     Moving sidewalks were. Why walk, why go to the bother of using your legs when you could be whisked to your destination through the magic of our friend, technology?
     Now some of those futuristic wonders are going the way of Space Foods sticks, at least at O'Hare International Airpot, where United Airlines announced it is taking out the eight moving walkways in Concourse C.
     "Our observation shows that removing the walkways in Concourse C will enhance the experience for our customers by reducing congestion and improving flow through the concourse," said Luke Punzenberger, a spokesman for United Airlines, based in Chicago.
     They'll also move faster.
      "Moving walkways are the only form of transportation that actually slow people down," said Dr Seth Young, of Ohio State University, one of several scientists to study the sidewalks and find that they delay pedestrians by obstructing their paths or encouraging them to stand while traveling at a slower pace than they'd walk unaided. The walkways also take up room that could be used to increase airport shopping, a trend of the world we find ourselves in, as opposed to one we once dreamed about.
     For those with a fondness for United trippy 850-foot walkway between Concourses B and C, with undulating glass walls, under what was billed as the longest neon sculpture in the world, worry not: that will remain.
     "We're only looking at Concourse C," said Punzenberger. "There are no plans to remove the connector walkways."
     People who are elderly, or have physical limitations, might be concerned about the removal of the walkways, which do offer a respite from the lengthy slog between Point A to Point B.
     "We recognize that some customers have special needs or concerns when flying, and we will continue to provide transport to customers who may require additional assistance,"  Punzenberger said.
     Like the fascination with trips to the moon, moving sidewalks appeared in Victorian times then took off in earnest the 1950s. The first debuted at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  Several other fairs around the world featured them, but it was only in 1954 that they first showed up in as part of urban transportation hubs and, in 1958, jet age airports, when the first was installed at Love Field in Dallas.
     People are always worry about our machines turning on us, and moving walkways really did. There was at least one death: On New Year's Day, 1960, a toddler, 2-year-old Tina Marie Brandon, visited Love Field with her family to see relatives depart and was crushed to death when her coat sleeve was caught by the walkway. Before anyone could react, her clothing constricted her so much she suffocated.
     Even when they don't kill you, the walkways in C offered an unwelcome conundrum. What to do? Stride athletically through the non-moving part of the concourse, or meekly hop aboard, knowing you'll have that slightly unsettling "The moving walkway is now ending, please look down" moment when you are projected back into the pedestrian realm of foot travel?
     Better to get rid of them, and not just for the way they can make it harder to get to a particular shop, or the energy consumed, or the expense of maintaining them -- or not maintaining them, as the case may be. In 1999, an electrical fire in one of the walkways shut down flights in Terminal One for two hours.
Four of the eight walkways are being removed now and will be gone by Thanksgiving, when there will be a pause in construction for the holiday traffic nightmare.
     "We expect to complete work by spring," Punzenberger said.
     Good riddance. Moving walkways are like food pills: a better idea than a reality. Cool concepts, perhaps, but turns out people prefer walking and eating. Walking is a joy -- okay, in airports, not so much. But it's still good for you, and all things being equal, you should walk more, not less. Ditto for nutrition pills. People didn't really want them; they want artisanal bread and organic apples and lettuce grown in the backyard.
     The future never actually arrives, and considering the strange stuff we fooled ourselves into believing we wanted someday, that's a good thing.

26 comments:

  1. The Ghost of Christmas PastSeptember 23, 2015 at 7:47 AM

    Why not just speed them up? Exercise is wrong, just like sleep or drinking water.

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  2. I remember being really intrigued by H.G. Wells description of a future in which people commuted by moving walkways that were separate strips, the speed of which increased as you stepped from one to the next, so that when you arrived on the outer strip, you were traveling at 40 mph or so. Lots of problems with the concept of course, but in the days when people routinely hopped on or off moving street cars, it probably was more believable.

    For me, the walkways at O'Hare, when they're working, get me to or from my gate more quickly, because I continue to walk, thus adding my natural velocity to the artificial one. Now, if we could just figure out a practical way to add people energy to our land and air vehicles, we could save a heck of a lot of gas.


    john

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    1. Read "The Roads Must Roll" by Heinlein.

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    2. Not all fictional futurists were as prescient. Anthony Trollope's 1882 work "The Fixed Period," a dystopian novel with a Malthusian theme --the inhabitants of a small island are to be euthanized at age 65 in order to conserve resources -- had people in 1980 riding around on steam powered bicycles.

      The Concourse C sidewalk might be a special case due to the relative narrowness of the tunnel and the short distance it covers. Overall, moving sidewalks are useful, particularly, where long distances are involved. And even the Concourse C moving sidewalk was, when it was introduced, a welcome innovation. Some younger readers might find it hard to credit, but once upon a time suitcases didn't have wheels on them, and there was an army of porters at the ready to help get one's bulky luggage from the car to the ticket counter.

      Tom Evans

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  3. While they're at it, why don't they get rid of those silly-ass wavy neon lights?

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  4. "Moving walkways are the only form of transportation that actually slow people down," said Dr Seth Young, of Ohio State University...

    Uh, bull? Escalators, if one is not walking as they move, go slower than I walk up the sometimes adjacent stairs. Depending on how many floors you're going and how long you have to wait for them, elevators are also often slower than the stairs. And any seasoned Chicago commuter knows that, for short hauls even up to a mile, one can easily travel faster by walking than waiting for the next CTA bus (followed immediately by two more, needless to say) to arrive to whisk you along at 10 miles an hour.

    Which is this "Ohio State University" you speak of, anyway? Surely not THE Ohio State University, or you'd have said so, right? ; ) (To be clear, I think that the THE nonsense is pompous, counterproductive and ridiculous.)

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    1. My father, mother, sister, aunts and uncles went to Ohio State. The "the" is news to me. Perhaps an official name, like, "Columbia University in the City of New York" that no one actually uses.

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    2. Even considering that you're not much of a sports fan, NS, I'm pretty surprised that you haven't run across this somewhere. Some folks DO use it; it's not JUST official nonsense. The general usage is a relatively recent development, apparently dating to a new logo from 1986, but I've noticed it most in the last few years. If you watch an NFL game on TV (which I realize that you don't, and I don't much, either) the players introduce themselves very briefly, mentioning their alma maters via video clips at the beginning of the game. These days, the ones that went to Ohio State almost invariably say "The Ohio State University". How widespread this is among regular alumni, and in general conversation, I don't really know, and I'm sure some do it tongue-in-cheek, but it's definitely a "thing", as I noted.

      From "The Ohio State University" Libraries page FAQ:

      "Why are we called 'THE Ohio State University'?

      In 1986, a new University logo was introduced in the hopes of moving away from the 'OSU' symbol, which had been used since 1977. The change from simply 'OSU' was said to 'reflect the national stature of the institution.' University officials wanted the institution to be known as 'The Ohio State University,' again, since OSU could also mean Oregon State and Oklahoma State University.

      However, the 'The' was actually part of the state legislation when the university was renamed in 1878. The following excerpt is from the Board of Trustee minutes:

      '...the educational institution heretofore known as the "Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College," shall be known and designated hereafter as "The Ohio State University."' ...

      http://library.osu.edu/find/collections/the-ohio-state-university-archives/buckeye-history/faqs/#1

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    3. Jakash -- At one time OSU was on my son's list of collages to attend, and whenever he had their football games on TV I always got a kick out of the person dotting the "i" in "Ohio" in the marching band :)

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    4. Yeah, Sandy, that's certainly a fun topper for a band routine.

      "my son's list of collages to attend" -- I don't really know how the art department stacks up, compared to the football team. ; )

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    5. Ha ha, Jak. I meant "colleges", of course :)

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  5. Neil,

    Your editors sure give you some boondoggles for newspaper assignments.

    There are so many more relevant things they can have you writing about, even if you are not normally a political columnist.

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    1. Nobody assigns me anything -- this was a suggestion, that I gladly took. I found the subject interesting. I'm not a political reporter because I find politics, in a too great an abundance, tiresome and repetitive. Surely you can find your fill elsewhere.

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  6. Ah, but no one says it like you do.

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    1. I appreciate that. And sure, I could comment on Trump every single day. But I'd be saying the same thing. I only jump in on politics when I feel like I'm saying something that is at least slightly different than the general howl.

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    2. Doesn't have to just be about Trump every day, but thought on other candidates or current events in Chicago, politics wise or thoughts on the governor, Madigan or the Chinese leaders visiting, the Pope's visit, Putin coming, etc, foreign affairs, the Euro refugees, would love to hear those thoughts from you

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    3. I like small stuff like the walkway, occasionally. You can read the opening Notes & Comments for a perfect, informed assessment of the Chinese visit. I have no fuckin' idea what to say about that. Madigan is a black box mystery. Putin is a tyrant. There's no rush on these issues. None of them are going away. Again, the notion that subjects are put against some scale of "importance" and only the most important gets aired, is not a value here. I wrote a book about the death of the men's hat industry. I didn't not write a book about industry in general.

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    4. Okay, thanks, Mr. S.

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    5. Don't forget Rauner is an ass.

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  7. Indeed. There has to be more to life than obsessing over an election that's more than a year away. Or politics in general. As Dr. Johnson put it:

    "How small, of all that human hearts endure,
    That part which laws or kings can cause or cure."

    Tom Evans

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    1. Well said, Tom. Quotes by Samuel Johnson always appreciated.

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  8. Tom,

    If I said I have gas this afternoon, could you find some literary match for that too?

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    1. Here I sit, broken hearted.
      Paid to shit and only farted.

      john

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    2. good one, Tate

      and kong boy can take Gas X

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  9. I wouldn't bother to try. Does it happen a lot? A change in diet might be in order.

    TE

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Thanks for commenting. As soon as I vet your remarks, they'll be posted, assuming they aren't, you know, mean and crazy.