In 1900, if you were lucky enough to have a ticket such as this one—and almost fifty million people did—you were in for an astounding treat. Paris and France went all out to make the Paris Universal Exposition the biggest and best yet anywhere in the world.
As everyone is aware, the Exposition grounds occupy certain parks and esplanades in the very heart of the city, so that anyone who makes the circuit on the rolling sidewalk views not only the wonders of the Exposition, but likewise considerable portions of some of the most attractive localities in Paris. The whole of the Champ de Mars has been devoted to Exposition purposes, also the Esplanade des Invalides, the Trocadero Park, the space around the Eiffel Tower, and other similar localities; while intervening between these, or adjoining them, are numerous solidly built blocks of residences or business houses. These conditions add materially to the variety and interest of the scene. No city has a better location to insure the artistic perfection of a great world’s exposition than Paris.
The rolling platform, trottoir roulant, is the special contrivance. It is not a detached structure like a railway train, arriving at and passing certain points at stated times. In the moving sidewalk there is no break. In engineers’ language, it is an “endless floor” raised thirty feet above the level of the ground, ever and ever gliding along the four sides of the square—a wooden serpent with its tail in its mouth. It is about two and a quarter miles in length. There are ten entries to it and as many exits from it, distributed over the river face, along the Champ de Mars and the Invalides. It never stops for passengers; you step on or off as you do on or off a ‘bus in motion, but with the important difference that the rolling platform is only two inches above the level of your shoe soles, and that its rate of motion is slower.
The Paris sidewalk solves multi-speed problems by having two sidewalks; you first step onto the narrower, slower sidewalk and then transfer to the faster one. It solves the handrail problem by not having one; there are posts you can hang on to, but most people seem to be ignoring them.
The outer platform the one next to it moves at the rate of about two and one-half miles per hour, while the one at the top moves at twice this rate of speed. This arrangement, together with the balancing posts stationed conveniently along the margins of the platforms, enables visitors to step from one to the other with the utmost ease and safety, and at the same time to regulate their progress according to their wishes.
Today the idea of a moving sidewalk does not seem at all novel. As we rush through airports wishing the moving sidewalks would go faster or as we travel on them in the Paris Métro—particularly that very long stretch in the Montparnasse station—we might pause to think of a time when they were novel, and if you got it just right, actually enjoyable.