The only exception I can think of is SeaTac Airport Station, where most passengers are pulling wheeled luggage.

Addendum 1: All escalators at UW Station were working Friday, when they were desperately needed. Thank you, Sound Transit, for making sure they were all in working order, as well as for the staff assistance at several stations for first-time users of ORCA/Ticket Vending Machines, and for the deployment of nearly the entire LRV fleet to keep passengers moving!

Addendum 2: At Angle Lake Station, “The station escalators power down to a slow crawl to save energy when not in use; only the second installation of its kind in Washington and a new Sound Transit standard.”

66 Replies to “Tweet of the Week: Broken Escalators are Stairs”

  1. The height difference between escalator stairs and regular steps are slightly different, though, as escalators have higher steps. Some places shut down non functioning escalators to avoid liability, especially in the down direction.

    1. That would make sense if people didn’t walk up or down moving escalators. There’s certainly no signage that I’ve ever seen attempting to limit that liability.

    2. It’s the changing height of the stairs at the top and bottom of the escalator that can be a tripping hazard. There’s no way that a staircase with that arrangement of stair heights would be allowed in new construction.

      By the time you take your first step on a moving escalator you are pretty much past the transition point and people are already making the adjustment between stationery and moving surfaces so there’s usually a momentary catch in their strides at both the start and end of the escalator.

      1. It’s more than just the changing height: the steps themselves are shallower or shorter than fixed stairs, so you have to learn to step differently. But still, stopped escalators are better than closed escalators.

    3. Can’t the liability be warded of with marks of ascalator stair? I think escalator stairs more dangerous than regular stairs because they are made of metal ridges rather than smooth concrete or something softer. I just find it frustrating when people are denied something useful because it is unusual but not less dangerous than usual. While I overall think our courts a good thing, this seems like an unintended casualty

  2. Sorry Mitch (RIP), but you’re wrong: escalators can DEFINITELY break:

    Anyways, calwatch pointed out, they don’t have the same profile as normal steps. I’ve noticed that the UW station stopped escalator is much less comfortable (more slippery, and one has to take larger steps) than normal stairs.

    1. BTW, I’m wondering why we bother w/ escalators. I know that there’s a LOT of stairs at the UW station, but it’s good for people to climb those and cheaper/easier to install & maintain than escalators. For people who can’t/don’t want to climb the stairs, there’s an elevator.

      I bet there are studies out there that quantify the rates at which transit riders switch from using stairs (and escalators) to the elevator based on how congested the elevators are, how long the stairs are, etc.

      1. They would need several more elevators to accommodate all the people can’t take stairs but who don’t normally use the elevator now. Many hidden disabilities.

      2. We could ditch escalators if we had shallower cut-and-cover tunnels instead of deep-bore. But our stations are so enormous you really need to be able to move people more efficiently.

      3. Yes, good to raise the heart rate, better for our pulmonary systems. Stairs, yes, haiku following…

    2. Wow, that video is traumatic. If you would have given a heads up, I probably wouldn’t have watched. Though I bet a heads up would have increased total views. I see it as a win win. Your message gets more views, the few of us that take active steps to protect our fragile emotions can.

      1. I can’t tell if you’re being sincere or trying to mock the notion of trigger warnings.

  3. Yesterday at about 7pm, the south side escalators from the street into UW station were operating with one closed, and the other in the down direction. On the mezzanine level, both sets of escalators had one closed and the other operating in the up direction. When asked how to get down, the technician said, well, you need to go up to the street and take the elevator down. It was a day where I *really* wondered why ST doesn’t provide stairs from the street to the platform.

    Can we please include a fixed set of stairs from top to bottom in future stations? Or open the “emergency exit” stairs for regular use?


  4. Typically, in order to repair a malfunctioning escalator, the workers have to take three or four of the individual stair units out in order to get at the workings underneath, so an escalator definitely can be broken. Unless you’re in a hurry to get ground up in the machine.

    1. The Porter Square station in Boston is interesting. There are three very long escalators and one of them always seems to be “broken”. Someone from the MBTA explained that the escalators take so long for maintenance that they have one out of service for maintenance at all times. Having three ensures that they still have one operating up escalator and one operating down escalator.

      1. You would think that ST would have figured out how to design like this…. But NOOOO!

        Why would ST design an ST2 station like Judkins Park, with 40-50 steps up and 40-50 steps down from the platform with not three, not two …. but only one up escalator? Curiously, they don’t design for one escalator in places like South Bellevue and Roosevelt.

        This escalator issue is going to be a source of aggravation for riders in years to come and that aggravation is only going to grow when ST2 segments open.

  5. How is it that I’ve never been to a mall with an out-of-order escalator, but it seems that about half of the time I am at a publicly maintained venue (convention center or transit center) with an escalator, at least one of them is out of order. Seems like routine maintenance at night isn’t happening as it should.

    1. Head to Northgate North mall, it’s pretty common for at least 1 escalator to be broken.

      Communication is key. If an escalator needs to be out of service, that needs to be communicated to people. And not just a sign in front of the escalator that says “out of service”. At the UW Station mezzanine,if you choose the side with a broken escalator, you have to double back and walk a lot further. When an escalator is broken, there need to be signs at all entrances/forks saying something like “North escalator broken, walk –> to get to platform”

      Secondary rant, why can’t they put a sign in the UW Station elevators explaining the button symbols? I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to tell someone “No, ‘S’ isn’t for station, it’s for street. You need to press ‘P’ for platform”

      1. They had one of those signs at UW Station last Wednesday. It was really, really helpful.

        If only they’d make the elevators clearer, though…

      2. Have you ever been to the Wells Fargo Center Downtown?

        There is hardly a day when all of the escalators are working.

        The bigger question for the U.S. is why are escalators that are working always running? Why not have sensors like they do in much of the world that shuts them off when nobody is around?

      3. “[In] the U.S. is why are escalators that are working always running?”

        There are at least some at the airport that use sensors. The northernmost pair of escalators between baggage claim level and the garage walkway uses sensors.

      4. I was at Capitol Hill station about a week after it opened, and some put a sticker that said “The Train!” next to the P button, and it gave me no hesitation as to which button to push.

        It has since been removed by Sound Transit, probably because it’s technically vandalism.

        So let’s print out 1000 stickers for each of the three levels, go to every station, and stick them on all of the elevators. Sound Transit can deal. I like this vandalism.

      5. They use different letters in different stations as well. On Saturday I rode the line end to end and explored a couple stations I hadn’t been to in a long time. It was amusing to see how the different elevators were labeled. Generally, the clue of bottom is the station, top is the exit works (or vice versa).

        One cool thing they do in England is they usually label the ground floor zero “0”. The first floor labeled “1” is up one flight. The first basement labeled “-1” is down one flight. I think I remember seeing some floors labeled “1.5” and the like as well. They don’t seem to use functional labels like “M” for mezzanine nearly as much as we do.

      6. I’ve worked at both Pacific Place and Westlake Center and each has more than occasional but not frequent breakdowns of escalators, and no indoor public stairways. Crazy making.

      7. “[In] the U.S. is why are escalators that are working always running?”

        At Angle Lake Station, “The station escalators power down to a slow crawl to save energy when not in use; only the second installation of its kind in Washington and a new Sound Transit standard.”

        If an escalator powers down when nobody can access it, did it really power down?

      8. “[In] the U.S. is why are escalators that are working always running?”

        The ASME code governing escalator safety in the US prohibited variable speed escalators until recently.

      9. If an escalator powers down when nobody can access it, did it really power down?

        People can access it. If nobody is riding it, then there is no reason to have it running at full power.

        If someone enters the escalator zone, then it starts running at full speed.

  6. “The only exception I can think of is SeaTac Airport Station, where most passengers are pulling wheeled luggage.”

    Do people only get on with luggage at SeaTac and off everywhere else at the end of their journey without their luggage? Does their luggage magically disappear while on the light rail?

    1. No. It’s a poor choice of words I think. A broken escalator is still stairs for them, but stairs are less useful. It also doesn’t depend on whether they are at the airport or not, and they will need to use one station other than the airport as you pointed out.

  7. Better general statement is that even when an escalator has its mechanism shut down, disassembled, and blocked by cones, you can still slide down the rubber “bannisters” (?)

    Or, especially if you’re six, climb up like a monkey, making appropriate screeching and ook-ook-ooking noise.

    Though your luggage may have to be taken out to air freight by taxicab and sent around the world to the other side of the boulevard.

    But main question is: Considering that UW Station just opened, aren’t escalators still under warranty?

    And, given our history with contractors, after suing culprits out of business, start making, and maintaining our own equipment.

    Government is indeed the solution, to the problems of greed, fraud, and incompetence common to the world of private contracting.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Ugh, how safe is not safe? I think open platforms are not safe. People fall in front of trains and die. Also, since when are moving escalators safe?

      Sound transit, you frustrate me.

  8. I posted this before when this subject came up but I will repeat it.

    I have a friend who works at SeaTac Airport who is familiar with escalators at that facility and he said that are a number of ways that an escalator can stop working. One is that people who bring luggage up and down with their suitcases can hit the internal off switch with their baggage and those switches are located on the sides of the escalator behind the metal wall. Those are safety switches and when they are hit the escalator shuts down and a technician has come to restart it. How long that takes depends on the availability of a technician. The airport policy is that they prefer to barricade the escalator until the technician can restart it. It is a safety issue as people think they can carry their luggage up and down a stopped escalator. Some people can and others can’t

    The worst situation is if someone falls on an airport escalator and is injured that escalator cannot be restarted until it is inspected by the state agency to make sure that the fall wasn’t caused by a mechanical failure and it can sometime take days before a safety monitor from the state can inspect it.

    This applies to the escalators inside the airport and I don’t know what the procedure is for the escalators at the link station as those are the responsibility of Sound Transit.

    My friend also pointed out that the escalators at the airport operate around the clock which is also close to the hours for the escalators at the link stations while escalators at the malls do have down times when the malls are closed generally from around 9 pm to 9 am so they do get less use versus those located at link stations and the airport. The more use of any mechanical device such as an escalator brings the possibilities that something will break and repair can sometimes take time.

    1. Thanks for the background! I hope the ST project architects and their supervisors read this and adjust their deficient approach to escalators because of it!

      1. “It is a safety issue as people think they can carry their luggage up and down a stopped escalator. Some people can and others can’t”
        This is a temporary cultural problem. People learn.

    2. Considering that my luggage just got a bite taken out of it by an elesclator on that Paris RER system, they are somewhat unsafe mechanical devices when not properly maintained and need to be taken out of service until they are repaired. I think is what happened was the escalator in question was missing a piece of the fuzzy guard along the side and my suitcase was a little too far over when the next section of the guard was there and it got bit by it without any warning. Its a good thing my leg was not there..

  9. Last week UW Station had three stopped escalators at the same time. In the morning I got off the train and the station guard said the escalator was closed and use the elevator or the other escalators. In the afternoon I went down (I think the south entrance), and the surface-level escalator was stopped, then the long escalators were stopped in both directions. All the escalators were open so people were walking down them. But I wish there was some warning at the surface and on the bridge so I’d know which entrance to go to. I’ve started taking the elevator more because you never know which escaltor will be stopped or closed in front of you.

    1. I take the elevator down from the bridge because there aren’t that many people using it to go down at any given time. If there are, I take the stairs and escalators.

      Going up, I take the escalators and stairs, since so many people are ascending at once.

  10. Elevators seem to bother me more. I checked out the Angle Lake station on Tuesday and the elevator was already broken. The garage was also less than 1/2 full at 3pm but I don’t think the elevator would cause that…

    About a year ago I got off at the North bound platform of the Mt. Baker station and there was someone in a motorized wheelchair staring at an out of order sign on the elevator. She was stuck on the platform and really confused on what to do.
    I talked her into getting into the next train North and then switching across to a SB train at Beacon Hill. Hopefully the elevator on the south bound side was working.

    1. I was going to ask when Angle Lake Station opened whether the escalators would break down as much as UW Station’s do.

    2. “I talked her into getting into the next train North and then switching across to a SB train at Beacon Hill.”

      That’s what ST tells people to do when an escalator/elevator breaks at Mt Baker, which has happened several times.

      1. ST didn’t tell this lady anything except a piece of paper taped to the elevator that said “Sorry- broken”. It would be nice if they would give a time or day that they expect it to be fixed and then explain the best detour…

      2. I meant, that’s what ST says in the email alerts. Of course that doesn’t help people on the platform unless they have a smartphone and check the alerts page.

  11. Re: Escalators on LINK stations-

    Does anyone know why the escalator direction is often switched at UW and Capitol Hill stations?

    I’m Japanese, so it’s especially confusing when the directions are switched, because I have to constantly remind myself which direction to go!

    Also, on the UW station, you have to turn to the second set (it’s not a direct line so you can’t see it until you turn 180) so when the second set is switched I almost stumble into the wrong way!

    It’s so dangerous. I wish they would stop doing this.

    (Also re:Capitol Hill station, I hate the elevators at Capitol Hill, and I’m very sorry for the inconvenience but I always bring my bike on the escalators… I do my best to squish to the side, feel free to “on your left” me)

    1. ST reverses the escalators every few weeks to even the wear on them so they’ll last longer. Or at least that’s the official reason. You may find the “last longer” part is ironic since they started breaking two weeks into their warranty period.

      1. If they’re going to change direction, they should do both at once, not have the side switch direction half way down to the platform.

        Also, put up a sign so people know which one is up and which one is down. Discovering as you’re about to step on that you’re at the wrong one is not a reasonable solution.

    1. I think it’s great. Also, assuming you don’t think meta analysis higher than the subject itself, I’m glad to see you’ve joined the party

  12. Perpetually broken escalators? Just another day at (voice drops an octave) “Sound Transit, bringing you half-ass transit since 1996! And, if you want more half-ass, make sure you vote “yes” this November!”

    1. Look at all the examples above- lots of malls and other private places have broken escalators all the time. ST us not perfect, but it’s pretty good.

      1. There absolutely are many perpetually broken escalators in the Link system, but they are mostly the fault of King County Metro in the transit tunnel.

      2. They are frequently-broken, not perpetually broken. Each are still in service much more often than not.

  13. I had some errands to run downtown after work today, so I headed to UW Station to take Link downtown. There was the expected security and crowd-control measures in place, but what I did not expect was a Securitas rent-a-badge standing at the bottom on the platform, admonishing people walking down the escalators to “slow down”. I ignored him and kept going, but most people just formed up on the right side to stand.

    You’d think that ST would want clear the station as fast as possible, but knowing them I’m sure they have a great reason for wanting to slow people down.

  14. Suggestion above about cut-and-covering shallow tunnels instead of boring deep ones- easier way to handle problem. Which is good, because the reasons for choices like tunnel depth are a lot more compelling than escalator length.

    Think of the curving concourse from the Veterans’ memorial on Second Avenue down to the north end of University Street Station. And then imagine it a shallowly-descending mile or more long, and lined with shops and food courts.

    Concourses like that can be fitted with moving walkways, often seen at airports. Also, the deeper the tunnel, the farther away from the station platform area that entrances can be. Meaning possibly lower price for the entrances.


    1. “Concourses like that can be fitted with moving walkways”

      Metro can’t keep their escalators working – what makes you think they’d do any better at maintaining moving walkways? They’d just shrug their shoulders and tweet “broken moving walkways are sidewalks.”

  15. Out of curiosity, do they have this sort problem with the Mid-Levels Escalators in Hong Kong?

  16. A. If an escalator breaks, I can walk, but it is not convenient for everybody.
    2. I look at the art while I ride the long stairs down. Visually apealing.
    D. There are not enough elevators for those who need them when service is down. Agian not for me.
    6. It makes sense for the ones downtown to break if not upgraded, some are 30+ years old. But I expect the ones at the new stations to work. Maybe lower quality equipment helped the term ( underbudget). These things are brand new and probably under warranty.
    L. Escalators help with speed also. If I am running for a transfer, I can walk up the left side quicker than stairs. It has made my trip over the years several times.
    9. Just figure out how to keep them running.

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