Moving walkways were invented in the mid 19th century, around the same time as the escalator. However, it took until the 1970s until they became commonplace.
In the 1920s in Atlanta, Georgia, a system was designed consisting of four moving walkways that moved at different speeds including one that didn’t move at all. You would step from the static walkway onto the second walkway that went at 2mph, then onto a third at 4mph and, finally, a fourth at 6mph and this one would have seats. Unfortunately by the time the proposal came up for serious discussion by City Hall, it was already clear that cars were the way forward.
Novelist Hugo Gernsbeck had an idea in which people would travel on a system similar to the Atlanta invention, but wearing roller-skates the whole time. Moving walkways also featured in HG Wells's 1897 novel A Story of the Days To Come and Fritz Lang's dystopian 1927 film Metropolis. Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov also included them in their short stories, and Robert A Heinlein made them central to his 1940 story The Roads Must Roll.
The first permanent American travelator was set rolling in 1954 at the Erie station of the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad. It made a 227ft incline - known for years as ‘Cardiac Alley’ - much easier for passengers. The travelator, built by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. and the Stephens-Adamson Manufacturing Company, consisted of 1,000 steel rollers over which a 5½ft wide rubber belt trundled. Passengers described the sensation as rather like having a foot massage. The walkway could carry up to 10,800 persons per hour.
The word ‘travelator’ comes from Trav-O-Lator; which is still a trade-mark belonging to the Otis company. The first travelators in the UK went into service on 27 September 1960, and consisted of two conveyors that carried people along a 16ft diameter tunnel at Bank Underground Station on the Waterloo and City Line. The Trav-o-lators were manufactured by the Otis Elevator Co., designed for heavy-duty operation, and together moved up to 24,000 people per hour. They were described as ‘an American device’ which was basically ‘a step-less escalator on an easy incline’.
There have been many attempts at high-speed walkways – up to 10 mph – but the problem has always been how to get on and off safely. Today you’d be lucky to find one that goes faster than 2mph. Montparnasse station in Paris has a high-speed walkway that moves at 5.5 mph – the fastest currently in the world. It did run faster at one time but had to be slowed down after passengers fell over.
Another high-speed attempt was TRAX (Trottoir Roulant Accéléré); it had foldable plates which sped people up but, with 700,000 individual parts, it was considered too complicated to be put to widespread use.
Proust described the writings of Flaubert as a trottoire roulant or ‘a rolling pavement’: Continuous, monotonous & bleak.
Travelators were invented to speed up the movement of people from one place to another. However, Manoj Srinivasan, a locomotion researcher at Princeton University, created two mathematical models which highlighted an unexpected consequence; despite travelators being installed to speed people through places like airports, the results showed that people on travelators tend to slow their pace, making time-savings minimal.
So, if you’re in a hurry, don't get on the moving walkway as it'll actually slow you down.
In 1871, inventor Alfred Speer suggested a system of moving platforms to transport people about beneath the streets of New York. The platforms would have also had ‘parlor cars’ and drawing rooms for ladies. Sadly, Mayor Seth Row rejected the proposals.
The Dull Men’s Club who celebrate all things dull are trying to find out if most luggage carousels in airports go clockwise or anti-clockwise. They have over 400 results. Most of them go anticlockwise.
Moving walkways that transport skiers are called 'magic carpets'.
The Tower of London uses a moving walkway to keep people moving past the crown Jewels.
A moving walkway was used in Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera to give the illusion of great distance.