Escalator queue at Capitol Hill Station
Peak hour queue to exit Capitol Hill Station — photo by SounderBruce — Flickr

Those of you who have spent any time at UW Station, Capitol Hill Station, Mt Baker Station, Tukwila International Boulevard Station, or SeaTac Airport Station may have noticed something obvious about the station escalators. They usually involve long queues in only one direction: exiting.

You may have also noticed that station escalators sometimes shut down for maintenance for extended periods of time in the middle of the day.

UW Station, Capitol Hill Station, and SeaTac Airport Station are blessed with two pairs of escalators between each level. This affords the possibility of having three escalators set in the egress direction, and letting just one handle the more-spread-out arrivals heading to the platform. And then when one breaks down, leave one in the ingress direction and two in the egress direction.

There will, of course, be some ingressing crushloads, such as right after a Husky football game. In that case, Sound Transt could reverse two of the escalators some time before the game ends, and then switch them back once the crowd is gone.

I talked with an ST service supervisor about the escalator directions on opening day, and he said the escalators are reversible.

43 Replies to “The Utility of Reversing Some Station Escalators”

  1. While they’re at it, could Sound Transit add signage in the cars and stations and public announcements encouraging people with NO (apparent*) disability, NO luggage, NO strollers, and NO bicycles to USE the escalators? Maybe your suggestion here would help make that an easier choice.

    Yes, I am shouting in all caps because every time I get off at the U District stop I watch car after car of people use the elevator while people who have no choice have to wait. I don’t encounter this at the other stops I typically use (primarily the ID, occasionally Westlake). I don’t know if it’s something to do with relative locations of escalators vs elevators, where the car doors open, the depth of the stop and therefore the long escalator trip involved, or some other factor. If they would even just wait until people who can’t use the escalators enter, then pack in after, it would be an improvement.

    I’ve pinged Sound Transit several times via Twitter with no response, whereas on other questions raised in that medium I usually get some kind of answer. Even a “we’ll look into it” would be an acknowledgement.

    *I fully recognize that not all disabilities are visible. It is statistically impossible that everyone getting on the elevator has one that doesn’t show and that prevents use of the escalator. When their conversations inclue discussions of hiking or climbing it’s clear they could walk to the escalator.

    1. I must confess that I often use the elevators at UW Station to get down from the pedestrian bridge to the platform, because there is no queue to use them in that direction. I never use them to exit the station.

      But thanks for pointing out how increasing egressing escalator capacity could help those who have to use the elevator!

    2. We use the elevator because it is fastest and most direct to the bridge. Maybe if they didn’t place the station in the middle of nowhere, locate it so deep, make the elevator so fast and direct, make the escalators so indirect and slow, and require the bridge to access buses, fewer would use the elevator.

      1. @poncho

        You could not have expressed it any better then that because that is why I use the elevators.

      1. I hate standing and waiting, so I’d rather be moving if there’s a chance the elevator will take more than a minute.

    3. That seems like a lot to put on a poster, and also encourages random people to be “elevator cops” and start profiling others which is not necessary. You could have a “please use escalator” announcement when exiting, like a “please use rear exit” announcement on the bus, but that’s about as far as Sound Transit should go.

  2. Although probably not encouraged, if you can run fast enough, you can run up the down escalator and bypass the escalator queue.

  3. When you go into the great Mr. Kemper Freeman’s Award-Winning Bellevue Square mall from the east entrance by The Bon March√©, they have an escalator going down on the left, an escalator going up on the right, and a large staircase in the middle. Why didn’t ST do that? “Because, Sam, there was no space to do it there!,” one of your ST apologists may defensively bark. I know that. I’m asking why didn’t they design it so there would be enough space for one?

    – Sam.

      1. Of course, but his point is that ST could have designed the stations that way, taking inspiration from bell-square.

      2. Stairwells work well to supplement escalators at above-grade stations. They don’t work so well for underground stations. I’m usually the only one running up the stairs from the Capitol Hill mezzanine to the street level.

    1. Since Kemper Freeman is such a wealthy man, I figure he put in the middle going nowhere just for show.

  4. I though this article was going to be about how ST is routinely reversing the escalators at UW and Capitol Hill to “balance wear on them”. Often for a few days in a row your escalator is on the left and that continually confuses passengers, who either have to step out of their way or even almost get on it before they realize it’s going the wrong direction. I’ve seen the Capitol Hill north escalators reversed multiple times, and at least one set of the UW escalators. There has also been the idiotic situation that the escalator to the bridge, which is singular, is going down!

    But worse than that is the frequency the escalators go out of service. Three of the UW escalators are prone to it, and I think one of the Capitol Hill ones. It’s happened on at least eight days and the escalators are only two months old! But yesterday I saw that one of the UW long ones was stopped, and somebody was actually working on it. Yaay! Usually they’re just stopped with nobody around. But on that occasion, the escalator that was working was going down. Shouldn’t it be going up when the other one is broken? I also saw that while there were two guys replacing the steps of the long escalator, the platform escalator below it was also closed even though it was running. That makes sense since you wouldn’t want to get halfway up and have to turn around.

    The escalators seriously need some warranty repair. I hope the two guys were it and were being paid by the escalator company.

    1. I posted this on a previous thread but it bears repeating.

      If you see an escalator out of service and there is no one working on it or any indication that it is being repaired it is likely that someone fell and may have had an injury. If that is the case the escalator cannot be restarted until it is inspected by the state to check that the injury was not caused by a mechanical issue. As I mentioned I have a friend who works at SeaTac Airport and he says that people falling on escalators there is a regular occurrence and if there is an injury that escalator can be out of service for days or longer as state does not have that many inspectors.

      The other thing is that like the airport the escalators at the various link stations operate almost around the clock with very little down time so like any piece of equipment you will have mechanical failures.

    2. If the bottom step is removed, the chances are that the work is being done underneath where most of the moving parts are. You may never see anyone if that’s the case, unless you wait around to see them emerge or can get to an angle where you can look underneath.

  5. Might make some good investigative reporting to see how the quality of our vertical transportation equipment compares with other places. Same with repair and preventive maintenance.

    Visiting Pittsburgh to see joint-operations in action- in the winter- was told that reversible escalators were standard. A large number of DSTT engineers and architects came from there. I think we and Pittsburgh share one problem with station architecture, including elevators, escalators, and stairs.

    A lot of our complications and convolutions owe to the fact that our workspace is narrower than average. Calls to mind “endodontic dentistry” – which includes root canal work. Probably by that standard, we’ve done well.

    Except for one real “howler” which really demands top volume. For conditions where directions and instructions need to be at their absolute best, we’ve always been at other end of the spectrum. Lights go out or rush hour crowd gets scared for other reasons,(use your imagination) people gonna die.

    Now also remember being told that our escalators were in fact designed to be reversed, but for some reason or other, since it had been so long since anybody had done it, wear on parts now made that impossible.

    That investigative report….pretty sure the Times would love to find something to fulminate about. But wouldn’t be hard to find archives showing they’d opposed the expense. But to complete their humiliation, we ought to accept the criticism and ask them to help raise the money now.

    For elevator and escalator habits, remember how new how many people are to our system. As everybody gets used to real subways (whether you can walk between cars or not) flows will develop that people will automatically go with.

    If furry-personnel budget is stressed, we could repurpose the cute little seat-hog into being a mole (give him a hard-hat with a miner’s lamp on it) and have him authoritatively guide people through our burrows. Or give Customer Services big wide Gandalf hats and magic shepherd’s staffs.

    Though I think Ground Hog (see how easy switch would be?) will work better with crush loads. Besides, underground wars between wizards sort of belong in the BRT world, don’t they?

    Mark Dublin

  6. Until ST can figure out A) keeping the escalators from going out of service, and B) putting up signs in convenient locations that say “escalator out of service, don’t bother walking to this side of the station” I don’t trust them to do anything advanced like periodically reversing escalators.

    There have been several times I’ve walked to an escalator, found it out of service, and then had to backtrack past where I started and go to the other side of the station to get to another escalator.

    Admittedly, that does make me more likely to take the elevator despite being able-bodied.

  7. Your suggestion about being able to run more escalators in one direction than in the other is not true, at least in Capitol Hill station’s case. The two station entrances are self-contained: there is no mezzanine connection. Riders arriving at the south or the north entrance and finding two escalators going up would be forced to take the elevator. This might work if stairwells had been included, but they were not.

    (Obviously this is going to remain true every single time that a platform level escalator goes down in any direction.)

    At UW station this is also likely to be true, because the two escalator sets are on opposite ends of the platform and therefore the mezzanine. Unless there was some signage directing arriving passengers to the one escalator that was operating in the down direction, there would be a large number of confused passengers who would be trying to find a way to access the platform, likely clogging up the elevators which as mentioned above is problematic. Since we know that Sound Transit’s biggest failure is in the area of signage and wayfinding, we can put this in the realm of the unlikely.

    1. Ryan, what about ST’s other weakness: escalator breakdowns?

      I was at SeaTac Airport Station today, where a down escalator was broken. Everyone trying to get down to the mezzanine and catch their flights was queued up at the one working down escalator, while two working up escalators were pretty much empty. Can we agree that in this case, ST should have reversed the escalator paired with the broken one?

      The emergency stairwell at the north end of the platform was open for use, but nobody was using it.

      1. Absolutely- in that case ST can “choose” which escalator breaks down. But I hope that there was someone assisting in directing people to the best escalators?

    2. Switching to using an elevator when faced with two exit escalators at an entrance would not be problematic. People are arriving at random times, and the escalator is usually available.

      1. Even with two elevators between the platform and the surface at Capitol Hill Station’s most used entrance?

      2. What time of day are passengers entering the station so rapidly that the two elevators would be overwhelmed?

        Beacon Hill Station seems to work pretty well, with the one problem that it seems only one elevator can be summoned at once.

      3. And why would ST choose the most used entrance? Couldn’t exiting passengers be pushed toward the less-used exits?

      4. The UW elevator seems extremely slow to me. The one time I took it so far was from the walkway to the station platform. There were two people in line for it so I figured one more person wouldn’t be a big deal. There were about 20 by the time the elevator finally got there.

        Only about seven people were able to get on because three guys with bikes got on and positioned their bikes so that nobody else could get through the door. Under different bike boarding conditions another 8 or so could probably have gotten on.

        If I had known the elevator was so slow I would have ran down the escalators instead.

        I didn’t time it, but it seems like the Washington Park MAX station elevators travel their 260 feet in less time than that Stadium station elevator moves.

      5. By “two elevators” he means that you have to ride two different elevators with a short walk between them to get from the street, to the mezzanine, and then to the platform at the north entrance to CHS. There is not a direct elevator from the platform to the street at that end of the station.

  8. Why they didn’t follow what was done at the DSTT stations, with an up escalator and stairs from the platform to mezzanine and combination of stairs and escalators from mezzanine to surface is beyond me. The maintenance and reliability of stairs is readily apparent compared to escalators. The DSTT system works, is known by all DSTT users and would have made sense to keep station egress and ingress consistent as the system grows.

    1. Are you suggesting riders should have to take two elevator rides to get in and out of every station that has a mezzanine?

      1. The idea was/is that the mezzanine is the fare control threshold and where the fare gates would go. Locating them on the mezzanine would minimize the faregates and ticket/station agents if they ever came to be.

      2. No, they could still have the elevators set up as they currently are at Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium. I was only talking about the escalators. The focus of the post is escalator operations and providing stairs would take the maintenance and reliability issues with the escalators out of the equation.

  9. It’s very surprising (and disappointing) that ST didn’t build three escalators (or a stairway in the middle) at the busiest stations. This is subway construction 101 – have an extra escalator that can be reversed based on time of day.

    1. There should always be stairs, no matter how long. As an able-bodied human being, I will almost always use stairs, even the never ending Sea-Tac subway to S-gate staircase.

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