So Many Doors, So Why Does Only One Gets Used?

There is a phenomenon that I keep noticing that involves store fronts with more than one door, how people use them, or I should say don’t. I started thinking about this today when I went over to the post office at Union Station during lunch.

Union Station has 30 doors in front of it. It has so many doors, because at one point in the 20th century, it was a bustling transportation hub. The architect designed the bank of doors to ease traffic jams, and facilitate quick movement in and out of the building.The thinking is simple, “People are trying to catch their train, give them lots of doors to get in the building with”. It makes sense doesn’t it.

Today after I finished filling out a package address, I sat in my car and watched about 20 people use just two of the doors to enter the building. They were all separate, they were all coming from different locations in the parking lot. They all followed the first two people through two separate doors about 15 feet apart, walking well out of their way to follow the people in front of them. It was like watching sheep being led to the slaughter. By the way, every door in front of Union Station is unlocked during normal business hours.

So, next time you are at a store with at least two doors, take a second and watch the traffic coming and going. I bet 90 percent of the time only one door gets used. This isn’t because some of the doors are locked, it’s more of a human nature thing. From what I can tell there is no design flaw with what the architect created. There is no design flaw in the doors themselves. It’s just the way it seems to work.

If you are standing in a parking lot looking at the front of a building. A larger building like a grocery store, or some big box retailer; a store with a bank of ten or so doors in a row, all lined up. If you stop and watch the foot traffic entering the building you will begin to notice a pattern. People will automatically follow anyone in front of them, and enter through the same door that they used even if there is a door closer to them as they approach the building.

If it is a two door set up, everyone entering and exiting the building will squeeze through just one door. They always seem a little freaked out if you open the second door and exit, or enter through the door next to them.

I wonder if anyone has ever done a study of this? I’m serious. It makes me wonder what architects and designers can do to create a door system that increases traffic flow and reduces bottle necks caused by the herding sheep syndrome.