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Dining Hall Gridlock Solutions

Senior staff writer Owen Fitzgerald-Diaz brings you more MoHi transit fixes, today focusing on Columbia’s dining halls.

We’ve all been there: it’s peak hours in Ferris or John Jay, and you’re frantically pushing through the crowd to get some food, or perhaps being jostled while trying to shield your drink as you make your way back to a seat. Random people think that the narrow aisles we all share are the perfect places to stand and chat, or have a leisurely two-abreast stroll over a cup of tea. Lines sprawl in whatever direction the crowd dictates, and the social order frays just enough that you can catch of a glimpse of people’s darkest animal impulses, usually papered over in normal situations by a thin veneer of politesse but now making their eyes glow with rage, fear, and despair. Some poor schmuck unprepared for the brutal melee gets knocked into you and spills their drink all over your shirt, and you think to yourself, “I don’t deserve this. Isn’t there a better way?”

Well, there is: the humble stanchion. Already the iconic backbone of the TSA’s vast security apparatus, the stanchion has been the leading lady of crowd control since time immemorial. With the addition of staff members or some sort of robot to direct people into the proper lanes and hurry along stragglers, lines for various stations could be coiled back and forth on themselves in specific areas, while quicker-moving lanes for people entering or exiting the food-gathering area and people moving between stations could permit greater mobility than when one has to push through lines of people. For example, the John Jay omelette line, which frequently blocks the entrance region, could be forced to bend back towards the toaster, keeping waiting egg-seekers out of everyone’s way. Ferris is more tightly packed and poses a greater challenge, but this is not insurmountable– the Ferris omelette line, for example, could be forced to bend back on itself towards where the pizza usually sits, as this station receives less traffic than the drink machines that the line usually blocks.

Both dining halls would also benefit from enforcing a single rotation direction between stations. Given the placement of their respective entrances and the layouts of the various stations, they would have to rotate in opposite directions, but the lack of people swimming against the tide would lead to significantly less friction. In Ferris, people could be forced to proceed in a counterclockwise direction, heading from the entrance past the toaster towards the pizza, then proceeding out towards the drink machines, while in John Jay a clockwise rotation past the bread, then towards the halal station, then heading out past the desserts would make the most sense.

Ferris already deploys stanchions somewhat ineffectively near its lower entrance to try to prevent people from sneaking in; high-priority dividers such as these could have a double belt and be electrified to act as an additional deterrent (and at peak hours, all the dividers could be electrified to make sure people behave in a manner conducive to rapid movement). Our dining halls will still be crowded and frustrating places, but at least this way they’ll move a little faster.

JJ’s can stay like it is, though. If you’re going there during the day, it’s because you are, on some level at least, seeking out chaos, and if you’re going there at night, then it’s just the price you have to pay to get the fries you will later puke up.

Ferris via the Bwarchives

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