WALK THIS WAY - Seoul Moves to the Right!

by Anne Ladouceur, 23/09/2009

The time has come to 'walk right' in Seoul. On October 1st, Seoul City will be launching a campaign to encourage people to walk on the right. We should soon begin to see signs encouraging people to walk on the right side of the sidewalk, while escalators and moving walkways are supposed to become 'right-sided'. Direction switches are planned for 1,109 escalators in 163 subway stations on lines No. 1 through 9 as well as for 20 moving walkways in 6 subway stations.

In order to let Seoulites get used to the changes, implementation began in September in some less busy stations. We should soon start noticing changes in signs leading to tickets booths and directions lines for subway transfers. The city will also have staff on hand, especially in the more crowded stations, near escalators and walkways to reduce confusion (Hopefully, this well-meant service won't have the same 'opposite-effect' as traffic cops do at intersections).

I read with interest some of the background information provided by the city regarding this new 'direction'. It seems that 88 years ago a law was enacted obliging pedestrians to walk on the left. However, because the vast majority of Koreans are right-handed (88.3%), walking on the left is difficult for them and apparently slows them down. According to a city official, “When people walk on the right side they go 1.2 to 1.7 times faster.”

Those of you living outside the capital need not despair - the central government announced back in April that it intended to take steps to change the Korean custom of walking on the left in order to bring Korea into 'line with international practice'.

According to government data, 73% of Koreans say they prefer walking on the right. "Many people complain they feel so uncomfortable walking on the left they bump into others." Now this is the first time I've heard this explanation this tendency, which has been commented upon by most foreign residents and visitors.

With all the broadcasts and banners hammering home the message of this move to the right, it will be next to impossible for any Korean speakers to miss it. I wonder, though, if the word will also go out in English and other languages. If not, I can just picture all the expats who have been in Korea for longer than a few months and who have gotten used to moving left on the sidewalk, but even more so in subway stations, on escalators, etc. Now that I've learned from the position of the feet and the arrows, that I truly do belong on the left, here goes Mayor Oh telling me, along with all the other Seoulite lefties that it's now time to shift right.

Should I start practicing now? Or should I wait until Thursday next? I guess I'll just go with the flow for now.....Let's see how things go on October 1st.


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