Double Doors are a Two-Way Street – a silly but important reflection


Photo by Dennis Brown

Today I would like to explain the intended function and use of the double door. The double door, a system of two standard-width doors, placed side-by-side, is intended to allow two-way traffic to pass through an opening, avoiding bottlenecks. It dates back to ancient Egyptian times. There are paintings of double doors on the tombs of the Pharoahs. It works like this: no matter which side of the door you’re on, you use the door on your right. Double doors may swing in both directions, may slide out of the way for you automatically, or may only open in a single direction. Nevertheless you use the one on the right. Anyone passing through the same opening from the other side uses the door on their right. And guess what? That’s your left! Isn’t that amazing? You can both pass through the opening at the same time without having to stop for each other!!! Genius!

But apparently it’s an idea whose time has not come, because, everywhere I encounter a double door, I find that it is not being used in this fashion. I find that only one side of the door is being used, either by design modification or by pedestrian choice, and the bottlenecks the double door is intended to prevent are occurring. Why is that? Is the double door, like the traffic circle (which drivers either blow through without looking or stop for when there’s no one in the circle, but never simply yield for), or the stop sign (which drivers either blow through, or stop until someone’s coming and then pull out directly in front of them) simply to complicated a design for the weak minds of the average citizen to comprehend?

Perhaps so. Why am I talking about this? Because little things mean a lot. As Robert Heinlein said, via Lazarus Long, “Moving parts in rubbing contact require lubrication to avoid excessive wear. Honorifics and formal politeness provide lubrication where people rub together. Often the very young, the untraveled, the naive, the unsophisticated deplore these formalities as “empty,” “meaningless,” or “dishonest,” and scorn to use them. No matter how “pure” their motives, they thereby throw sand into machinery that does not work too well at best.”

In other words, without good manners, stress increases, hostility increases, and social interactions go straight to hell. Manners may seem like trivialities, but they’re very, very important. A design for pedestrian traffic which keeps people from running into each other, or having to wait unreasonable amounts of time, reduce the chances of violence, morale issues and even people going postal. Don’t believe me? You should try standing in the middle of a badly-designed traffic flow for a few hours and watch the effects it has on people. I once worked a disastrous convention in another state, lured there by a dear friend who was in over his head. A studio had thrown a lot of money at a convention in order to boost investors’ interested in their TV show, but they had no clue how a convention should be run. All their plans were geared toward making their actors feel like royalty and not have to be confronted with their fans, who, in the eyes of the studio heads, smell bad at best and are serial murderer-rapists at worst.

I had to take charge of an autograph line which had people standing in a non-air-conditioned staircase for hours on end; a line which, if a customer had paid for multiple autographs, he or she had to go to the end of the line between single autographs. It was insane and inhumane. Common sense and common courtesy did not apply. It was a badly designed system. After about an hour, I, as the recognized organizer of the line (but not the convention), started to receive death threats. I thought about calling for the hired security, who were packing (that’s how afraid of their fans these idiots were), but then I realized, no, I was above that. I would handle this situation like a person and not like an authority figure. I re-routed the line into an air conditioned ballroom, assigned numbers, and had small groups escorted to the staircase only as getting an autograph was imminent for them. People still waited a long time, but they were comfortable and much happier.

I have always refused to allow this to happen at my conventions, not just in autograph lines, but in general pedestrian areas as well. I have thus won a reputation with committees as “the hallway Nazi.” My wife Renee shares that title with me, as she’s about as rabid about these things as I am, and she’s been by my side right down the line and suffered through the same hellish situations described above.

But it’s not just at conventions that common sense seems to go out the window. That’s why this entry opens with the condescending paragraphs above. I figure everyone is smart enough to see a double-door and figure out its intended purpose. Why, then, am I restating its purpose as though my readers were all idiots? Because I regularly observe the following:

The constant stream – You’re approaching a double door. You open the right-hand door and start to enter. A person coming through the other way sees the open door and decides you opened it for him. So he walks through it, ignoring the available door on his right. Everyone behind him does the same. You could be stuck as doorman until the “How to type the letter ‘A’ in Microsoft Word” training in the big conference room has emptied out for lunch. Why do people do this? Because they’ve been trained to never open a door. You’re not ever supposed to have to touch a door and open it, it should just open for you, that’s why we have…

The handicapped button – Only that’s not why we have the handicapped button, now is it? We have the handicapped button (hate the name, BTW, but no one’s coined a better one) so that people who are physically unable to open a door manually can open the door and have equal access to a building or room. But everyone uses the handicapped button by default, rather than touch the door. (Ick! Door germs!) The only time they don’t use it? When someone’s already opened the door on the left.

The locked door – inexplicably, a high number of buildings and offices which have double doors choose to always keep one of them locked.  I think there’s some kind of post-9/11, security-conscious reason for this, but, like most such security measures, it grows out of a herding mentality which doesn’t recognize the value of the individual or the need for good manners. Unlock the door, people, just unlock the damn door! People shouldn’t have to do a dance and a chorus of “After yous” so numerous that you’d think the priest assigned them at confession just in order to pass through a freakin’ door!

The just plain using the door on the left – Someone, just ignorant of convention, approaches a double door and, even though they see someone about to enter through the door on their left, throws open that door anyway, making the other person wait for them to exit. I see this done by people who are clearly longtime US residents, who can have no excuse for not knowing that, when you meet someone in a hallway or on a sidewalk, you move to the right so that both of you may continue walking. This same custom should and does apply to double doors. So why ignore it? If you grew up in the US, you were certainly told to stay to the right. I can’t find any decent research into the custom, but at least Wikipedia has an article on Pedestrian Etiquette, so someone’s thinking about the custom of staying to the right. Hell, you know you’re supposed to be doing it when driving. What excuse do you have for not following this custom? Ya got two options: rudeness or stupidity. Which one ya want?

I say people should know how to negotiate a double door, based on the rules of the road. But then few people know how to drive safely, so…

Like I say, it’s the little things. They mean a lot:

– Stay to the right when using a double door or meeting an oncoming pedestrian

– If the right-hand door is locked or blocked, unlock it or tell someone who can

– Exercise your arms. Don’t use the handicapped button unless your disability requires you to.

– Be aware that at least ten recent university studies, funded by grants and performed by people with long strings of letters after their names, have demonstrated an 85% possibility that there are other people on the planet with you. Try not to piss them off. Some of them might be carrying copies of those same university studies. They printed on paper. Lots of it. If you get hit with one, it’ll hurt…

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4 thoughts on “Double Doors are a Two-Way Street – a silly but important reflection

  1. You might meet an English or Japanese person coming the other way, who will of course use their left hand door, then your fancy scheme falls apart. Or is the convention to use the door on the side of the road people travel on in the country you are currently standing in? So RH doors in the US, LH doors in the UK?

    They don’t teach this stuff at school.

    • I wouldn’t call it a “fancy” scheme. It’s pretty simple, really. But your point is well-taken. There may be different customs in different places. As I mentioned in the entry, I was speaking specifically of customs here in the U.S. But if pass-on-the-left is the custom elsewhere, by all means, know that and follow it! And of course be flexible with people who may just be new to your country. That’s also common courtesy. But my beef is not with people who are new and don’t know our customs, it’s with people who’ve grown up in this country and just don’t give a damn. They expect every door to open automatically, and, barring that, they expect someone else to open it for them. I don’t like that, and I think it’s a destructive attitude.

  2. Thank God I found someone out there that has the same intolerance for the ignorance of our present day population as I have in regards to using the “right” door or walking on the right in public. I was really thinking that the world is being programed by Aliens to turn our entire thought processes completely backwards. Or maybe Americans are subliminally being change into becoming European.

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