Why do people congregate at choke points?

I see this all the time. If you are in a hotel, the “group” arranges themselves to block the area between the lobby and the corridor with the elevators. At a restaurant that has an outdoor waiting area, they cluster near the front door, completely blocking it. I see it all the time in casinos. Why stand in the open area over there when you can block people coming from four different directions at once by standing at the intersection of two walkways!

What is it? Is it: look at me and all my wonderful friends having such a marvelous chat that is so engrossing we don’t even notice the pissed off people all around us until someone finally says “Excuse me” and then we can go into our “Oh my! We had NO IDEA we were standing where everyone else needs to walk TEE HEE HEE!” routine. Or maybe it relates to a study I read a while back that showed, on average, people took almost twice as long to leave a parking space when someone else was waiting for it. Is it that? Or is the world just filled with self-absorbed d-bags?

Seriously, I want to know.

I’ve noticed this as well, and also find it annoying. I imagine it mostly happens organically. Two people start chatting for a minute on their way in/out , then another person joins them, and so on. I don’t think there’s a group of ten people that say “hey - let’s meet just outside the only exit.” It’s a bit like when you’re in an elevator and when the doors open people are standing right in front so you have to wait for them to move aside before you can get out.

It probably happens becuase it’s a choke point. People don’t see each other in the big open areas, but when everone is trying to squeeze out the same 8 foot door that’s when they bump into their long lost friends.

To add the question, people also seem to love standing in doorways in houses whenever there is a get together causing the same type of problems. It’s a convenient place to lean if you want to stand but theres got to be more to it.

Happened at the last bike race my Wife was in.

At the damn finish line. A group came in and stopped just past the end. Just stood there with their bikes congratulating each other while other racers where still coming in. The race marshals had disappeared for some reason.

I ended up politely asking them to move before someone got hurt.

Probably for the same reason that urban planners learned not to set buildings too far back from from the sidewalk. People don’ like feeling exposed. Our natural inclination is to feel more safe and social in a more closed in setting.

Sociologist William Whyte, in his book City, wrote that people like to feel in the midst of things, as if they’re in an important, central place, and feel the buzz. Sometimes they’ll even sacrifice their own comfort and convenience to have that – no question that they’d interfere with the c & c of others.

If you take a look at Frank Lloyd Wright houses, he kept the ceilings low (really low, like 7 feet) for exactly that reason. Something about, the room feeling smaller and more cozy therefore more social.

You should read


for Cecil’s take on FLW’s tendency for low ceilings.

Because inconveniencing some other anonymous person isn’t motivation enough to move.

The behavior of congregating at choke points seems eminently logical to me. Annoying, yes, but understandable.

Choke points, as you describe them, are often doorways, corners, intersections, gates, and so on — places between location A and location B.

If I am going toward A, and you are going toward B, we talk as we walk along. When we get to a point where we must split up between A and B, we stop until our conversation is done. It just happens that this place will likely be near a choke point: a street corner, a door, an elevator, whatever.

It happens alone: for instance, in the aisle just beyond the cash registers at a store, or just before the exit. Have I got everything? Do I have my keys? A person sometimes pauses at the choke point, vacillating: before I leave location A, I must have accomplished everything, then I can go toward location B.

I notice it here in Colombia also. Especially at the ATM in the Mall. People stand straight out from the ATM across the floor so that nobody can pass through. I.E. :
o = people ^ = me
| |
| |
| |
| ooooooooooooooo | ATM
| ^ |
| ^ |
| ^ |
| |
| |

Sorry, this didn’t work out so good. The space between | | is much wider in the original and edit, but it is close together here.

Next time put your diagram in {code} tags & it’ll look like this:



|                 |
|                 |
|                 |
|                 |
| ooooooooooooooo | ATM
|       ^         |
|       ^         |
|       ^         |
|       ^         |


Thanks LSLGuy, I will try to remember that.

They do it even when there is plenty of choice of other places to stand or move!

Every day I bring trains into platforms and see people clustered at one particular point -usually the entrance/exit - with a few sensible souls spread up and down the platform. The sensible souls get on the train almost at once. Those at the choke point have to wait until all the passengers who wanted that exit get off and then they tend to stand queuing to get on the train. Announcements that there is room at other points of the train or to use more than one door are ignored and inevitably I’ll just close up and go without them. I can only hope that those who regularly experience this wise up and eventually stop queuing for one door and use one of the other 21 available.

Similarly, people will crowd onto, say, the first two carriages because at one of the very popular stations the exit is right at the front of the train. In reality, those who get off the third and fourth carriages will walk past the people queuing to get off but they don’t see that from inside. Naturally the people on the platform waiting to get on will have stopped just inside the entrance by the first two carriages and will also have to wait an age before getting on (at which point they will queue for the single-leaf door :rolleyes: ). Smart bears walk up past the crowd and get on a door not currently being used.

They aren’t doing it on purpose. You just happen to notice it when it happens. You need to count the number of times that you pass through a choke point unhindered and compare it to the times when you notice that there is a gathering there.

Now this I do on purpose. Especially if there are dozens of other open spaces in the lot. Why should I be in a big hurry for you? It won’t kill you to walk the extra few feet.

I’m going to take a different tack. Since we generally don’t notice the folks who congregate away from choke points, I’m going to hazard a guess that the incidence of people gathering at choke points is not significantly above average. Those are just the ones we notice.

So why to they do so when it gets in the way of others? Because they’re lazy, stupid, sociopathic, whatever. These are people who seem not to realize that society is a cooperative effort. It just doesn’t occur to them that they are getting in the way of others (unless they are doing it deliberately - whence “sociopathic” above). They’re no different from the [Pit-worthy adjective deleted] clowns who shove their shopping carts down the center of the aisle.

Just like in Xbox games.

If there weren’t people blocking it, it wouldn’t be a choke point. :slight_smile:

More seriously, if they congregate somewhere that isn’t a choke point, nobody notices because getting around the obstruction is trivial and the event forgettable. You only remember it when it’s annoying.
“Three people are chatting in the middle of the subway platform!” - Big Deal
“Three people are chatting in the middle of a spiral staircase!” - Get the fuck outta the way!