When fighting my way through congested railway stations or shopping centres, I sometimes like to think of myself as a particle in a fluid flow. To get to that ticket barrier faster, it would be really good to hitch a ride on a fast moving streamline.
How can crowds be streamlined? There is usually no chance to overtake that big guy with the rucksack who keeps stopping or the woman with the pram that’s holding everyone back.
There’s a lot of research into how crowds behave. It seems that people tend to look ahead, spot potential obstructions and weave their way through any available gaps. They self-organise into lanes and thus decrease their ‘friction’ with other people who are advancing in the opposite direction. Tube station designers know something about crowds and they tend to rely on signs saying ‘Keep Left’.
Today’s invention attempts to enhance the natural self-organisation which runs into difficulties when crowding is so dense that weaving isn’t really an option. In areas of expected congestion, lanes would be painted on the floor in smoothly swooping layouts. Each would have arrows marked in it indicating the allowed direction of travel. There would be a gradation from left to right of speed: say ‘crawler’, ‘walking’ and ‘rush’ lanes.
People could thus make a choice to match their requirements on the day, in a similar way to the choice of lane on a motorway.