Right or Left?

My office is in the Terminal Tower in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. My wife and I live in a neighborhood that we call “Dudso”—Down Under the Detroit Superior Overpass—having taken our inspiration from Brooklyn’s “Dumbo” (…and we are officially claiming credit for originating this term…let it be known). I walk to work through the “Flats”—it’s about a fifteen-minute journey that is shortened (perceptually, at least) by my trusty iPod.

When I finally arrive at climate-controlled, indoor space near the end of my morning’s journey, I get an Americano from the coffee stand near the Terminal Tower’s elevator bank. The coffee stand is at the north edge of a five-story atrium, on the second level. There are open corridors all around the atrium and you can watch people walking about. At the south end of this atrium, also on the second level, is the terminus of a very long escalator, which ascends from the primary transfer station for the region’s three light-rail lines.

Approximately every twelve minutes, hundreds of people come pouring out of this escalator, having just ended their morning commute. As people step off the escalator, they have a choice—go right or go left. Now, trust me on this one, 99% of these people are heading toward the northernmost exit of this large indoor complex, which leads to Cleveland’s Public Square. The “left” path and the “right” path both lead to the same destination, thus a given individual has no particular incentive, as I see it, to take the right or left path.

Why then, do at least 75% of the people getting off the escalator head to the right?

I’ve thought of a couple of possibilities, neither of which inspire extraordinary confidence:

  • There are large, nicely reflective windows on the not-yet-open-for-daily-business Ann Taylor store (which lies on the right hand side) in which people can check their full-length appearance as they’re walking to work. About half of the people that walk past this window take a look at themselves. (But, there’s a Victoria’s Secret store with very “appealing” window displays on the left side—you’d think that would have some draw…)
  • The service counter to the coffee stand (you know, where people wait for their lattes) is on the right side. Aside from that the coffee stand is perfectly centered and symmetrical about the atrium.
  • Most people are right-handed.
Could it be...that most people are really right-biased? Perish the thought.
A note on my walk to work: The roads are salted, but the sidewalks are not.