Last Saturday morning, as thousands of march attendees took the train to Capitol Hill Station, the up escalators leading out of the station were a bottleneck. On top of that, extra trains were arriving from both directions, with the vast majority of their passengers alighting, filling up the platform much faster than any evening peak rush, over an extended period.
The small handful of passengers trying to get down to the platforms had mostly-empty elevators available at each end of the station. They had no need of the escalators, and they were not using them.
There are no legal obstacles to temporarily reversing escalators for large crowds trying to leave the station, and certainly no technical challenges, as ST has reversed escalators many times, albeit not to have both in a pair go the same direction. Per Sound Transit spokesperson Kimberly Reason:
Sound Transit reviews and plans for upcoming major events that may have a significant impact on transit operations. As part of this process, Sound Transit and our operating partners debrief high-impact event operations to review and consider any improvements that may enhance operations during future similar events. Since each event is planned for and reviewed on a case by case basis, the protocol – and any modifications that might results from this process – would vary accordingly.
Reversing escalators would allow large crowds to get where they are going several minutes faster. But the case for reversing escalators to get passengers out of the station is much stronger than for getting passengers into the station.
The large crowd on the platform Saturday morning was becoming a fire safety hazard. Clearing that hazard by allowing faster egress could save lives. Enabling more passengers to fill up the platform faster, by having more escalators headed down, would have the opposite effect.
Sound Transit has done an excellent job controlling entrances to stations during post-event crushloads, and getting those waiting to enter the station to form a phalanx outside. Controlling crowds entering the station before an event requires holding trains, which is logistically more difficult.
For the sake of Vision Zero, I will once again beg Sound Transit Operations to seriously consider reversing some station escalators during run-ups to major events in order to avoid overwhelming the station platforms.