My biggest fear when riding the D.C. Metro on a daily basis during rush hour has to do with the crowds. I suppose people in Beijing and Tokyo are unphased by it, but when masses of people pour out of trains onto subway platforms, I get scared. Maybe this is because I've never seen people navigate a subway system with such intensity. For instance, not a day goes by where I don't see people making a mad dash from an escalator to a platform to catch a train, even when another one is a mere three minutes behind it. Not a day goes by when I don't imagine my transfer at L'Enfant Plaza from the blue or orange line to the yellow or green line to end in entrapment, with me being moved backward by the oncoming crowd of people that are trying to go the opposite direction, with little path for me to move against the crowd.
In my view there are two reasons for the intimidating D.C. subway crowds:
(1) The business and government districts are in a very compact, dense area; moreso than a larger city like New York or Chicago. Thus, more people are forced to interact in a smaller place.
(2) D.C. is the most Type A city in America.
So, one of the two above conclusions is probably a little easier to prove than the other, but I think I can make a fair case for both. D.C. is a city where a sizable amount of professionals gather: lawyers, politicians, etc. The types of people who fill these jobs tend to be overachievers. The young people who fill the jobs that assist the professionals--interns, legal assistants, consultants, etc.--also tend to be overachievers. Overachievers of course are Type A personalities. They are not known for stopping to smell the roses. I consider myself more Type A than Type B, but I like to stand on an escalator every once in awhile rather than scale it at a demon pace so I can enjoy the book or magazine I'm reading, and I don't need to run to miss a train if I know the next one is only 2 minutes away--as it almost invariably is during rush hour.
As I have found, this is not the D.C. way. People like to get from point A to point B in the least amount of time possible. The problem is, when most people have this mentality, there is no one who will yield his right of way. There is no one to pause and say, wait a minute, I'm going to let this frenzied man behind me pass me because he cares more about getting where he's going quickly. The people who yield, who think beyond shaving a few minutes down from their commute--the Type Bs--are just as useful as the Type As. Don't get me wrong, I think everyone should abide by typical subway protocol: stand on right side of escalator, walk on right; move towards the center of the train so you don't block people from getting in; have your ticket ready when you get to the turnstyles.
Perhaps the fact that I think so devotedly about train protocol makes me part of the swarm of Type As. I won't deny it. I'm just a little scared that there are so few Type Bs.