At Friday’s regular board meeting, the Sound Transit Board heard a report about the state of elevators and escalators on the Link light rail system. Some stations, like University of Washington, are not meeting the escalator availability standard because of frequent and long-term outages that is being blamed on premature component failure, among other issues.

This is an open thread.

55 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Elevators, Escalators and an Explanation”

  1. Did they ever get rid of the message directing riders to a phantom elevator on the west side of Pacific Highway next to SeaTac Airport Station?

    1. I make a near-daily transfer there, and haven’t seen that message on the variable message signs (The PA system doesn’t reach the bus bays so I don’t know about the audible message).

      The A-Frame sign propped up in front of the street level elevator entrance directs people to call ST Security. It’s periodically accompanied by an unofficial-looking hand-written sign directing people to take RR-A to another station.

      1. Now that the day’s gone by, my earlier words on official attitude broke my own first rule of transit commentary. Never say or imply…”Why don’t we JUST…” Especially for escalators.

        Would’ve been kinder to point out that like everyplace else in the world, that this region has people with enough skill and ingenuity with small machinery to design and assemble an inclined platform lift to fit over the steps of a disabled escalator.

        If we can’t buy one off the shelf. This is standard wheelchair equipment. Though from what I see on the websites probably not strong enough for use I see, maybe three people and a large motorized chair.

        Operated by an attendant. Mainly intended to carry people in no condition to climb stairs. Small minority of a UW stadium load on game day. But wouldn’t ever put operators on call.

        Their full-day wages can be fair compensation for passenger care we paid for, but didn’t get. And For harder “fits” than the bridge at Sea-Tac, every construction site has very rugged elevators, simply assembled.

        What angered me about the tone of the meeting was its treatment of intangibles like contract language, and part availability, and difficulty finding vendors as if they were plate tectonics or gravity.

        I don’t like hearing slurs on term “Seattle Process”, because every city has a process, usually more corrupt and less intelligent.

        But this video showed me a terrible atmosphere of helplessness about machinery that itself confirms my worst fears about a governmental culture with no personal feel for it. “Post Industrial” is worst kind of “Post Truth.”

        And a threat to survival that makes it a national defense matter to hire for life everybody that can design, build, and assemble an emergency lift for a broken escalator. For instance. Tell ST’s lawyers to add that to the settlement too.

        But one screen-tap is all the hardware Mr. Rogoff needs to tell Pierce Transit to order every 574 driver to announce to passengers that since the Bridge elevator isn’t working, the next stop will put them at the Terminal’s door. Not one moving part.

        Mark Dublin

    1. Richard, you’ve got your machine digging 180 degrees in the wrong direction.

      Video? Nobody’s lying or covering anything up. Dammit. Because I don’t think there’s an elevator on earth that’ll handle the vertical distance between today’s topic video discussion and the action that human health and safety demand, right here right now.

      Elevators, escalators, or Water Quality- there are quiet meeting rooms to discuss contract law and parts availability. While somebody starts installing some machinery where the work is going to be noisy.

      Independent Consultant? Any firm whose specialty can unbolt every vertical or slanted machine that LINK passengers have to ride, and replace it with something out of a mine or a quarry. In a world full of structures and excavations.

      At exact site of our Tunnel Boring Machines right now, there’s likely somebody with contact on his Samsung for Vladimir Khazak, Downtown Seattle Transit Project Chief Engineer. He’ll know whom we call next. If US company and workers handle this, next Election could turn out better for transit.

      But Russia has a lot of mining just across the Bering Straits. In a country with a lot of experience in escalators.

      Mark Dublin

      1. Mark, it was a pun on “elevator”. A “groan” would have been sufficient. But thank you for replying, though I haven’t been able to decipher it.

    1. A similar question I have is why the Evergreen Point and Clyde Hill elevators fail a couple times a week. It might be Metro’s problem, but it’s still perplexing.

      1. It seems that low-bid no-accountability elevator&escalator contracts are a theme for all of our transportation agencies then…

      2. Lowest bidding is the law. That is with any contract which brings in supposedly getting taxpayers the best deals and keeping cronyism and favorites aside with the downsides of some leaving out significant portions of their bids and of course knowing that you need a product they can hold you up as long as they want because litigating will take forever.

      3. Yep, I get the low-bid part (I’m a state employee), but I don’t get the no-accountability part.

    2. I think closer to two months now.

      My theory: The contractors who handled the escalators & elevators for most Link stations were ripping ST off and delivered/installed sub-par equipment. Businesses love to rip off the government.

  2. I think ST needs to look at Northlink Stations currently under construction and come up with alternate plans to move people to/from platforms. Escalators aren’t the answer.

    How about more elevators (4 instead of 2)? I think broken escalators at UW station wouldn’t be as big a deal if there were more elevators. Or find the space to put stairs and ramps in so people could walk up?

    1. I think stairs should always be an option. A lot of the downtown tunnel stations have a set of stairs next to one escalator (usually going up) rather than 2 escalators and no stairs. Stairs can’t fail and be closed for months.

      1. The lack of a down escalator is cheapness. There’s an adage “up one flight, down two flights” that some people consider the point that justifies escalators. That was the prevailing philosophy when the DSTT was built. The public didn’t want to pay much for the DSTT, so they got stairs. Note that department-store shoppers think the opposite: there’d better be escalators or I’m shopping elsewhere. So at Westlake the level from the surface to the mezzanine has two-way escalators because shoppers use them to get to the department stores, but the level from the mezzanine to the platform has one-way escalators because only transit riders use them.

    2. The issue with stairs is these stations are deep. Stairs are ok but there must also be ramps, and double the number of elevators.

      1. If we add stairs for each level of UW Station, people would generally have to just climb one set of stairs, and ride the escalators on the levels that are working.

        Given UW’s search for money to continue funding its transit program, UW should consider selling a portion of the ground under Rainier Vista and Pacific St to ST, if UW Station is going to get an upgrade. Mothball UW Station temporarily for any such upgrade, once U-District Station is open.

    3. Building public stairs alongside the escalators at UW would involve some seriously huge climbs between landings.

      UW station is deep enough (below the montlake cut) that the design debate isn’t between escalators and stairs, it’s between escalators and elevators. I think going elevator-only a la Beacon Hill would have served general commuter traffic better, but the escalators are probably better for a post-game stadium crush (when they are online).

      1. But if you let people descend the stairs, and switch the remaining working escalator to go up, it isn’t that bad. And they’d generally be descending one section of stairs, and have working escalators for the other segments of the descent. Under normal conditions, there should be plenty of space on elevators to go down, anyway.

      2. I think the stairs would be a convenience for the fit. I personally would not think twice about going up that many stairs. The elevators would still be there for all the people who can’t or prefer not to do that climb.

        When I lived in Brooklyn, many of the old 6 floor buildings didn’t have elevators that worked or that I’d trust. People just climbed them without complaint. Young, old, thin, and not. I guess they were just used to it.

        Obviously I think stairs should be an additional option to elevators and escalators. I just wanted to highlight that not all would consider this a long climb

      3. +1. Beacon Hill is not my station, UW Is :( But when I’ve used Beacon Hill i always found the elevators easy to use and fast. One challenge at UW is the elevators must also serve the skybridge in addition to the street and platform. So, yes, more elevators were needed at UW.

        After watching the video I became considered that the language around lessons learned from elevator design and maintenance contracts were for “future stations”. Does that include Northlink? I know those stations are already under construction, I’m hoping we don’t end up with 3 more troubled stations before ST gets a handle on this problem.

  3. I had my first direct, face-to-face run in last night with some MI residents about LR on MI. They were incensed that they were losing SOV access to the HOV lanes.

    You name it, they threw it out there. “The new lane configuration is dangerous!” “Capacity will go down!” “LR is just social engineering anyhow – no one on the island will use it so who cares if it gets built!” “We were promised access in perpetuity and this is breach of contract!”

    The lady finished her rant with the desire to see it tied up in court until she retires – obviously only concerned with her own individual commute.

    I knew when to back off, but I sure as heck hope ST gets a clear win on this – and fast. Transportation progress in this region can’t be held up by such attitudes.

    1. According to the 2017 SIP (page 173, 177) 1124 passengers board route 550 and 309 passengers board route 554 at Mercer Island P&R on an average weekday. I don’t have stats for route 216, but that number will be smaller than route 554’s.

    2. Also, blocking construction on the express lanes will not get them continued use of the express lanes, nor will it get them permission to drive through the HOV lane. MI’s actions will not stop ST from taking possession of the express lanes from Bellevue to the edge of the island, and from downtown to the edge of the island, so construction will begin somewhere. With Mercer Island being in the middle of the track-laying, there should still be some float time for that portion of track work.

      At least the westbound traffic getting off I-90 to enter the express lanes will go away, immediately mitigating the MI SOV traffic on N Mercer Way.

      1. If that’s true, sounds like checkmate. I Hope you’re right. I hate to see the needs of the entire region held up by a bunch of myopic solipsists.

      2. @Josh — Everything that Brent said is true, but it misses the point. Mercer Island has absolutely no hopes of winning the court case, if you define a victory as Sound Transit (or WSDOT) paying a dime to Mercer Island. But they do believe that ST failed to write a proper EIS. A supplemental EIS will take time, and Sound Transit doesn’t have time. So they are practicing brinkmanship in hopes that Sound Transit will settle. The wackos like the one Lazurus talked to actually help them. Sound Transit can go into negotiations saying “You’ll lose”, and the M. I. lawyers can say “We don’t care! Bwah, ha, ha, ha!” knowing full well that there are plenty of folks on the island who are willing to take this to court even if they are told they will likely lose.

        All of which has Jason Rogers and I predicting that the two sides will settle somewhere in the 15 to 30 million dollar range. You can see the details of this in the previous post (the comments by both Jason and “Ron Swanson” are definitely worth reading).

      3. Thanks, Ross; I have read the comments.

        I’m not familiar with exactly what’s going on with this situation. But it seems to me, the best time to have brought up this concern was 5-6 years ago. As another commenter stated, there may be a statute of limitations involved here regarding the EIS.

        It seems all parties involved dropped the ball. Maybe a settlement would be the most fair outcome. But after MI taking a seemingly bellicose, antagonistic course, I’m inclined to say too bad, so sad, should’ve said something 6 years ago.

      4. And actually, the EIS was done in 2004, so not 5-6 years ago, but over a decade! And, now, all of the sudden, it’s a crisis! That’s a joke!

      5. If the case drags on, the HOV lanes get painted, the June switchover occurs, the express lanes get shut down, Mercer Islander SOVers start using N Mercer Way or other routes, the slower school zones suddenly feel safer, ambulences have a clearer path on The Ramp and the HOV lane, and Day One of Rampaggedon shows very little impact, it’ll be a very short case over the EIS.

        Having the HOV lanes moving more people on the buses quickly past the rush-hour traffic jam than the number of people suddenly having to drive on N Mercer Way (less the number no longer getting off I-90 to enter the express lanes pretending to be MIers) will be a bonus. Hopefully, Metro and ST can ramp up the express bus capacity, because closing down the express lanes should mean more riders. Start by offering more service from Island Crest Way directly to downtown Seattle, even if it is just the 30-footers, and even if those start out half-empty. But make use of The Ramp, and move more people on the buses.

        Also, consider charging for parking at Mercer Island P&R. That’ll open up more space for islanders. If MI wants to buy parking passes for its residents, it would be free to do so.

    3. Would look worse, Lazarus, you couldn’t find these comments verbatim in the face of every single transit project in history. Though wonder how much that held for freeways, where negativity was really warranted.

      Like I’ve been saying, though, best way to deal with opposition from ordinary people is to arrange the work with good temporary transit as a priority. Considering condition of all our infrastructure, from highways to BART trains to sewage plants, consider a few years’ emergency transit as badly-needed practice.


  4. I’m really bothered by the generalized 95 percent standard being called successful. That’s essentially saying that it’s okay to have an escalator down one weekday a month. If there is an easy alternative it’s fine but not if there isn’t one.

    I’m also bothered by this being discussed mostly as a maintenance and performance issue. It’s really more of a design issue.

    Here’s why:

    The presentation makes it pretty clear that escalators, as mechanical devices, will have routine failures as a normal part of operation. All of the other escalator operations mentioned in the discussion openly have escalator performance issues. Unfortunately, the design teams at ST think that it’s still okay to design just one escalator (in one direction) at a station. Even the consultant focus discussed at the meeting seem to be focused mostly or entirely on the maintenance and equipment failure issues, and not on the basic question of whether or not we’re putting enough escalators in a station in the first place. This is silly even to a fourth-grader; these are mechanical and will have failures so to somehow think this is more of a maintenance problem more than being a design deficiency is putting the focus on the less important issue. Most people are smart enough to understand that we have to have alternatives or “spares” to provide a public operation of anything mechanical that is prone to having failures any more than 1 or 2 percent (or 98 or 99 percent performance). Let’s quit deluding ourselves to an unspoken or tacit acceptance that a 5 percent failure is okay for this issue and that the problem can be solved solely by having better maintenance.

    We first need to consider the benefit of easy redundancy in our standards. I propose that a better standard recognizes when alternatives are or not available. We could have a standard for 98 percent reliability for places that don’t have at least one escalator in a direction (particularly if there are no stairs), and 93 percent for places that have a parallel escalators in the station. That way, maintenance crews will understand what’s more important when multiple failures occur. [edited]

    In addition, a direct design recommendation is that also needs to be made is this: Add more escalators and elevators at both existing and future stations to alieve the inevitable escalator and elevator failures. At least most new Link stations are going to have two elevators. I think we should consider adding 1-2 escalators at every single new ST2 station now in design or early construction for this very reason. Certainly there can be variations depending on the length of the escalators and elevators and the anticipated utilization, but overall there seems to be a major looming deficiency. Keep in mind that we’ll have 3 or 4 times more escalators in our system in just 8 short years. [edited]

    Finally, I would suggest that we get off the “study” and abstraction of standards, and get some action underway to at least design and cost the addition of more escalators and elevators at every station including those that are open like Mt. Baker and those that still have open design contracts (Northgate, Lynwood, Eastlink and Federal Way segments) to immediately correct this basic system design deficiency by designing for more escalators and elevators, even if we don’t add them right away. It’s much cheaper to design for them now (structurally, mechanically and electrically) than to have to redesign a station after it’s opened.

    A WMATA final observation: The 93 percent standard is more acceptable there precisely because WMATA designers were smart enough to put three or four escalators in most places in their stations. until our system has the escalator redundancy that WMATA does, 95 percent is still too low and too general.

    1. Some edits:

      – … 98 percent reliability for places that DON’T have at least one escalator…”

      – “… 3 to 4 TIMES more escalators …”

      1. Yeah — I read that first sentence three or four times before I figured you meant what you said in the edit (we sure could use a real edit feature). As for the second item, it was so implied that I didn’t even notice you left out the word. That’s the thing about English — skip a word or two and it is usually pretty clear what you meant, unless that word happens to be “not”.

        Anyway — I appreciate the edit very much (and the original post even more).

      2. I agree. I find the situation most aggravating. One of the biggest weaknesses we have within our system is a lack of stations within the urban core. But making those stations outstanding can go a long way to ameliorate the weakness. Unfortunately, it costs a huge amount of money if those improvements are made after the fact. The longer we wait, the more it will cost us in the long run.

        I find it astonishing how much people think we should spend so that small segments of our train line can go a minute or two faster, yet we are OK with riders spending way too much time getting to the platform because we failed to spend a little bit more on escalators. Maybe we should have a campaign. Something like “Let’s build decent Seattle stations!”.

      3. I have the same frustration, RossB. For example, when I’ve suggested going back from 6 to 7.5 minutes headways for Link so that we can have more reliable and less crush-loaded three-car trains, some posters are outraged at me suggesting that we should make a rider wait for up to 90 seconds more for a train. Of course, these same posters don’t seem to speak up about how a person loses an extra 20 or 30 of those seconds by having to walk down stairs (as opposed to walk down an escalator), or how it can take over 60 seconds more to wait for an elevator because we haven’t installed enough elevators and the ones there are slower-moving hydraulic elevators.

        Still, my bigger frustration is the complete lack of ST expansion staff not having contingency or optional plans to add escalators and elevators in the future. This is a problem with the ST2 stations in final design now, and will be a problem with ST3 stations — unless a fundamental change happens. The additional cost of designing to allow for these things is minimal when it’s done at the design stage. Unfortunately, I never see a design from ST that shows any allowances for future station escalator, elevator or even stair upgrades. A future ST is left to spend millions more to figure out how to add them in another 10 years instead — after another massive outcry because of escalator performance.

        As a result, the additional cost will be instead passed on to the future public for this glaring omission, similar to the cost we incurred when it was discovered about the grounding problem with the DSTT rails several years ago. When will we learn to not be so short-sighted in our design work?

    2. Examples of stations with one escalator and no alternative? Every station I can think of has either redundant paired up and down escalators, or individual up escalators paired with stairs. Plus one or more elevators.

      1. I would opine that the type of alternative depends on the station elevation change and the station usage.

        An example: If there are only stairs or an elevator and there are at least 35 or 40 steps up, a second escalator is badly needed. That second escalator can run down when the up escalator is working, and then it can be switched to up when the main escalator fails. When the secondary escalator fails, the down stairs will still be available. A second escalator can also be switched for crowd surges as needed.

        Just having one escalator in the up direction is just not enough, given the likelihood of operational stoppages.

  5. I think we ought to have more elevators at stations and fewer escalators. Some of these underground stations are quite deep, and the escalators take a lot of time. It adds to transit time.

    One of the stations, I think it was beacon hill, has no escalators and instead a bunch of fast high capacity elevators. I don’t know why we didn’t do that for husky stadium station.

    Are escalators really cheaper anyway if they break down this much?

    1. Beacon Hill station is 200′ deep and that was considered too far for escalators. UW station is approaching that so I’m a bit surprised it wasn’t made all-elevator too. The thinking was probably that elevators couldn’t handle the crowds at football games or students coming in in the morning. But having four elevators instead of two would really make a difference, even if it doesn’t completely remove the need for escalators for crushloads.

    2. It’s faster to take the elevators at UW station when they’re available, which means a lot of people make the rational choice to prefer the elevators. As a result, the elevators are often too crowded for the people (with wheelchairs, bicycles, etc.) who need them the most. It seems like this problem is only going to get worse as the system is built out, as 4 car trains arrive every 3 minutes at peak, and more SR 520 bus routes are truncated to UW. Broken escalators make it worse and it seems like there might actually be a potential safety issue in addition to a rider experience issue in that case.
      The obvious solution is more elevators – but it’s probably too late for that now (is it?)

      1. I think Mitch Hedberg had the most obvious solution:

        “An escalator can never break: it can only become stairs. You should never see an Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order sign, just Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience.”

      2. Actually, I believe it’s really not right to use an escalator as just plain stairs.

        “they are fenced off so that people cannot walk on them.

        esclator steps are different than normal steps and can therefore be a tripping hazzard. If someone was to trip and land on the serrated edge would could cause an injury

        basically it comes down to OH&S”

      3. The key phrase being “when they’re available”. If the elevators did not have to serve a skybridge in addition to the street and platform two would have been plenty. I’ve missed trains waiting for an elevator at UW. If I have clear access to use the escalators (they don’t have to be working) I can make the platform at UW in under a minute from the street.

      4. Seems like you could dig the shaft at the west end of the Rainier View ped bridge downward to the mezannine level, and add an underground walkway. That would make a few of the bus transfers better too, as you wouldn’t have to go up to go down. Depends on the layout of the parking structure under there though.

      5. You made an important point there, Jonathan!

        ST does not add future escalator, elevator or stair options in any station designs. I think that a better public design strategy would be to overdesign for these things, then not actually provide them until the funding is available and they are needed. ST’s ingrained culture does it the other way — the design on Day 1 is all that should be in the design. Without fundamentally changing this culture, we can look forward to more videos of staff at future meetings for years afterward explaining that these things can’t be added because we didn’t design for it and instead blaming the problem on maintenance.

      6. I used to go for the elevators for that reason, but due to crowding, I find the wait time to usually not be worth it. With a bit of hustle, one can descend from street level to platform in about 2 minutes, and from platform up to street level in about 3 minutes.

    3. Interestingly enough, most people seem to prefer to walk down the escalators, rather than stand, even when clearly visible signs indicate that it won’t make any difference because the next train is 8 or 9 minutes away. Even families with children, the kids usually get board standing, and want to run down. The result is that the downhill descent is quite fast. This morning, I descended from the surface, down the escalators, with two minutes to go and easily made it.

      On the other hand, on the way up, a large majority of riders seem to want to stand the entire way, because walking uphill is more work than walking downhill. This results in a much longer trip in the uphill direction, which is fine for those that don’t have a half-hourly bus to catch.

      Tip – if you really need to beat the crowds to the escalators so that you can hustle up, I recommend riding in either the 1st or the 3rd traincar, since the escalators go up from the ends of the station, not the middle. The middle car is better positioned for the elevator, but best to do the right thing and not hob the scarce elevator capacity when you don’t need it (and if you’re physically capable of walking up the escalator, you definitely don’t need it).

      1. I don’t think you may be aware that it’s harder for many people with arthritis issues to walk down steps than it is to walk up steps. It may require less effort, but it does produce more pain.

      2. It’s presumptuous of you to assume you can tell who is or is not benefited by using the elevators instead of the escalators. People’s disabilities (or even their predilections) are none of your business.

  6. Since this is an open thread, well I was away on vacation last week and didn’t catch the podcast until yesterday afternoon. I would be happy to write a Page 2 post why I support electing all transit boards – and why I think Sound Transit is being unfairly picked on.

    That said, I “get it” most transit advocates would puke in the green room waiting to go on stage to “press the flesh” and win votes. Or in the case of Martin H. Duke want to be our Steve Raible and that’s cool. I would also add coverage could win out sometimes over frequency & quality, that getting any tax increase will be tougher, and that we’re talking about taking a risk we better calculate.

    But I want to be on a transit board. I do see John Niles on a transit board but also Mike Orr, RossB, [ot], and Ric Illegenfritz. I don’t see [ot]. or SounderBruce ;-).

    One last thing: I love Sound Transit. My motives are very different in backing electing transit boards than you might think.

    1. Hope your MAX photo session went well. Seems like the weather was somewhat cooperative.

  7. A little late posting this, but it did just happen today.

    The elevator on the South end of CHS is being weird. I got stuck in it for a couple minutes between street level and the mezzanine, where I gratefully jumped off. It jolted to a stop a couple feet below the street, began moving again, then stopped again 15 feet below the street. It then moved very slowly to the mezzanine, where I got off and took the (at the time) functioning escalator down to the platform. I thought about pressing the emergency call button or making a phone call, but decided to wait in case it would reset or something. It probably stopped for 20 seconds or so each time (maybe less).

    So, I expect we will soon add Capitol Hill to the list of elevator problems — maybe Kone thought the economy would tank again by now and was lining up the service contracts? Or maybe it’s like VW and the software is just saying it’s breaking down. Lol.

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