It's counterintuitive, but it seems to work.
If you've been to a big concert, or a ball game, with a big crowd of other people, you know what happens when it's time to leave. No matter how big the exit is, everybody gets jammed up and it goes really slowly.
Engineers in Japan have been looking at what's going on and how to fix it. What they found makes no sense to us, but it seems to work. Obstacles speed up exiting crowds.
They started with what we've all seen. Even when exits are wide open, people seem to jam up in front of it. Then they tried something goofy. They put something in the way of the people trying to get out. Not so big that it blocked the way, but big enough that people had to detour around it. And it had to be in just the right place. Guess what? Everybody got out faster.
Here's why. Usually, so many people get to the exit at the same time that it turns into a people traffic jam. Everything slows down. When there's an obstacle, it slows some people down just enough that the congestion in the exit never happens. Even though they're getting there slower, more people get through the exit faster than before.
Our way to the exit is clear now, and we'll see you next time.
Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station.