Saturday, November 04, 2006

Crossing a busy railway concourse

I described how to avoid crashing into strangers without slowing down several months ago. Although I have yet to receive any international prizes for contributions to conurbial efficiency, I think it is just a matter of time.

However, my technique involves a large amount of lurching and corner turning. Could, I wondered, there be a solution to the problem that does not involve such gymnastics?

I was given reason to consider this problem when I was at London Waterloo earlier this week.

The problem at Waterloo is that the underlying assumption in my earlier solution does not hold. In my previous solution, the assumption was that you are fighting against a crowd that is walking in a uniform direction (directly at you, in fact)

At Waterloo, by contrast, people act as if they are acting out a random walk (indeed, I'm fairly sure that most of them are there solely to get in the way of others). People are milling around by the departure boards, people are walking to and from the stairs to the underground, people are walking to and from the platforms and between the platforms and the ticket machines and the shops. Other people are carrying precariously balanced cups of coffee as they massage their ticket out of their wallets to avoid stopping as they approach a ticket inspector.   And while all this chaos is unfolding, the incessant beep, beep, beep of electric buggies and clank of rubbish carts is pervasive.

What, readers, is one to do?

The solution, counter-intuitively, may be to disregard the advice of my earlier result and, instead, resolve never, ever, to change direction. Instead, modulate your speed. That is: as you see the other station users inconsiderately embark on paths that will cross yours, make no attempt to divert. Instead, slow down (or speed up) in order to ensure your paths do not cross.

I have tried it (once) and it almost worked.

Therefore, I'm pretty sure I'm on to a winner here.

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