What's the Straight Dope on one-way store aisles?

Thanks to the pandemic, many stores have their aisles marked for one-way traffic, and some other public buildings have one-way hallways. Do these actually help prevent spread, or are they just “hygiene theater”? What’s the science behind them?

Grocery store aisles are longer than they are wide, so distancing is best accomplished with a one-way pattern.

I try very hard to adhere to the arrows at my local Walmart but it seems that a lot of people don’t give a shit. Honestly, there are days when I feel like I’m the only guy working on a group project.

I’ve been going up and down the aisles at my Safeway regularly for 19 years. I honestly forget to look down at the arrows at least once every visit now. If I want a box of pasta, I just head over to the pasta aisle. I don’t think I’m any closer to my fellow shoppers going one way than if I was going the other way. I’m walking past people in both cases.

Walmart customers can’t even seem to handle going down one-way parking aisles. No surprise in doesn’t work inside the store either.

By now I’ve mostly got myself trained to pay attention to the arrows. But that means that sometimes, if I need a box of pasta, I need to go the long way around, spending more time and probably encountering significantly more other shoppers, than if I just went into the pasta aisle the wrong way. Which makes me wonder if following the arrows is doing more harm than good.

I like that. It’s very fitting. My grocery store is pretty small by most peoples standards, and they pulled up the arrows on the floor. Sort of gave up I guess.

This is a very good point. You also spend more time in the store.

A follow-up question: If significant numbers of shoppers are ignoring the arrows and/or passing each other going the same way in the aisle, does the directionality have any function? Or does it depend on everybody going through the aisle in order and never passing each other? Because that would definitely make shopping trips much longer.

My general impression is that wearing masks and not hanging out near other people for more than a few seconds is far more important.

I don’t understand the difference in risk walking 6 feet behind someone for the length of an aisle (going the same way) compared to passing them briefing going opposite ways.

If two masked people passing each other spreads this virus, we’re all fucked anyway.

It’s not “hygiene theater” but it is outdated. The one way aisles came about in the early days of the pandemic before masking. The idea was that people would walk thru the store in an orderly fashion, 6 feet apart, and no passing. A very optimistic goal even in the best of circumstances.
Now that we know more about how the virus is transmitted, it seems like a silly guideline. The particles can stay airborne long enough for a person 6 ft behind to pass thru the “cloud”.
Corporations, being what they are, inertia takes hold. And we’re stuck with these outdated guidelines, at least for a while.

Did anybody ever see this happening in real life? It definitely didn’t, in my experience. The store was either so deserted it was irrelevant, or so crowded it was impractical (and irrelevant).

Like I said: optimistic!

If what I need is the “wrong” way up an aisle, I back my cart up doing a klutzy version of Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. I’m on someone’s “lamest hits” security video.

One things for sure: If I’m in a one-way store and need 5 things, I’ll go to the wrong end of each of those five aisles. Thereby needing to walk 10 aisles instead of only 5. Admittedly my main store is two-way so I only hit the one-way store occasionally for oddball things. The one-wayness wouldn’t be an issue if I shopped there regularly or was going to stitch almost every aisle anyhow.

Agree with @mikecurtis is it’s an example of an early stopgap measure that’s taken on a life of its own.

I agree that they are stupid. I very nearly made a post about it but I assumed I would get told I was terrible community-hating person that loves COVID.

I think there is zero reason to believe that it helps at all. When I am going down ailes, I am constantly passing people who are off to the side (or waiting behind them when they are not).

Lets say I need something that is halfway down aisle 8, and I am on the wrong end. I now have to go down aisle 9 (passing people possibly) just so I can now go down aisle 8. I am convinced I will come into closer contact with more people in this scenario than if I had just gone the “wrong” direction down aisle 8.

Wake up sheeple! The virus doesn’t care what direction you are going when passing/near people!

The original logic:

  1. Lessens face-to-face exposure marginally
  2. Reduces time spent in the store very marginally

Maintaining space is probably more important than either.

The way I see it…the one-way aisles are kind of a pain in the ass, just like masks are, and if nothing else they encourage us to be more mindful and deliberate about how often we go shopping and how we act there. We need to slow down from a “run in and grab a few things every couple days” mindset to a “plan it out and go fewer times” mindset.

I’m in the “worse than useless” camp.

First, in most of the stores that I’ve been in, the signage ranged from poor to terrible. One store had the lone indicator on the floor, halfway down the aisle. And for me, the light shined right on it, so I didn’t even see it until it was too late. (and then there was the store that had an aisle change direction midway… it was where you could leave the aisle, but as I recall part of the aisle you weren’t technically supposed to be on)

Then, as mentioned above, people often drive the wrong way in parking lots, where that can cause logistic problems.

Finally, if I’m trying to find the particular frozen dinner I want and someone has the choice to stand there or go around me, the odds are they’ll go around. Walking around the store like a Stepford conga line ain’t gonna happen.

Sorry for the rant, this particular solution bugs me irrationally

I disagree. It’s hard enough to get people to use masks and distance (which we reasonably believe can help) without also trying to get folks to uselessly parade one way in stores. We don’t need to make the hill harder to climb.