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Sound Transit’s rider-hostile escalator policy is under scrutiny right now, but there are similar problems with escalators in the Metro-run Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT), extensively renovated for light rail in 2008.

To take one example, the up escalator at the 3rd & University tunnel entrance was inoperative from March 14th to April 3rd “due to a problem with the handrail drive system,” in the words of Metro’s Scott Gutierrez. “Repairs were completed as soon as Kone had a crew available.”

Given that this is a rather long climb, I asked Gutierrez why they didn’t simply switch the down escalator to go up. He provided this very detailed response:

In some cases, we can reverse the adjacent escalator to go up instead of down while the up escalator is out of service. We did not do so in this situation because it requires safety adjustments that are very time-intensive. This is because the step chains wear differently when running in an opposite direction (most people tend to stand to the right, which causes the right side of the chain to stretch more than the left). This difference can cause the escalator to malfunction when running in the opposite direction unless the step chains are adjusted so that the treads will align correctly with the combs at the opposing end. Sometimes it can take as long to complete that process as it does to repair the escalator that is out of service. If there are complications, that can lead to both escalators being out of service. So we consider several other factors, such as: How long will it take to repair the other escalator? What other conveyance options are nearby? Are any public events scheduled during the forecasted down time? In this case, we considered these factors and decided the best option was to stay on track with the original plan and repair schedule.

The moral of the story, I guess, is that even seemingly simple fixes turn out to be really complicated. It’s actually easier to fix the escalator than reverse the other one. What’s apparent is that the contract with Kone doesn’t require a particularly high level of service, and we can expect long outages in the future.

43 Replies to “DSTT Escalators Have Problems, Too”

  1. Am I the only one that is highly unimpressed with Kone’s performance literally every time they’re mentioned?

  2. > Metro-run Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT), extensively renovated for light rail in 2008.

    Wasn’t the renovation from 2005 to 2007?

  3. The moral of the story, I guess, is always build redundant stairs, because the up escalator being out didn’t have as big an impact in this case.


  4. I think that the DSTT stations need down escalators to the platform. Too few escalators means that an alternate escalator canon be used by changing direction.

    Further, I think that ST2 and ST3,should pay for them, because the additional stations and service increase passenger volumes at each station. If not that, then SDOT should get the money from a transit impact fee on new nearby buildings or some localized mitigation money for these buildings. Even Move Seattle money should be available to add escalators.

    1. ST’s North King budget is maxed out and still people are trying to add tunnels. So no escalators.

    2. I agree. Twice recently I have seen confused visitors with luggage looking for the escalator down to the platform. And also looking for restroom.
      What is rationale for not including such?

      1. The DSTT was built in the 1980s and the focus was low capital costs. They believed that down escalators were justified only if you’re going down two or more stories, the so-called “one level up, two levels down” paradigm.

        Never mind that department stores and malls always have down escalators because otherwise customers will think they’re too cheap and shop elsewhere. But we live in the era where we can’t have convenient pretty things any more (no more art deco public buildings or beaux arts public squares) because people are suspicious of taxes and government, so transit stations are lower-budget than shopping malls.

      2. “because people loud-mouthed, selfish narcissists are suspicious of taxes and government”

        There, FIFY.

        Let’s start calling people what they are. I’m quite sick of being “polite” when the opponents are destructive nihilists bent on raping the public fisc for their own gain.

        I have no quarrel with principled conservative people who believe in limited government, as long as there is “NO COLLUSION” and I don’t mean with the Russians. America’s capitalists are quite capable of destroying the nation that shelters them.

        And, go ahead Frank, Martin, Bruce, [ah] me. At least some people will read this before you do.

      3. When I say “people” I mean the prevailing opinion. It won’t change until a critical mass of people change their minds. It has gotten better over time: in the 80s and 90s it was impossible to get enough people to support frequent midday or evening bus frequency, or down escalators, or elevated rail or tunnels in flat land, but now we have them.

        The prevailing opinion in Seattle and Washington is car-biased, has a shaky understanding of what makes transit effective, and is “go slow” on taxes, but it’s not as extreme as national libertarians or nihilist bentheads.

    3. Is it really possible to add down escalators to the DSTT? Maybe it is at Westlake where the platforms are somewhat wider, but at University and Pioneer Square they’re only seven or eight feet wide, barely enough to have the “up” escalator and the stairs at the ends of the plaforms. To have “down” escalators you’d need to move the stairs elsewhere (the middle of the platform?) and put the “up” escalator where the stairs are now.

      Or, once the buses leave, there could be center platforms added to those two stations, and the platforms would become “directional”. There would be no “rule” saying that one could not use the “other” platform for a different purpose, but what if the side-platforms were preferenced for loading or unloading by the placement of escalators. So, perhaps the side platforms would be as today with an escalator and flight of stairs at each end, except that the escalator would be “down”. The center platform would be preferenced for deboarding with an “up” escalator and stairs at each end. .

      1. Yes, adding a second escalator to go down is hard, especially at University Street and Pioneer Square.

        The logical genetic approach is to first add a switchback staircase somehow off the platform. Once that’s opened, the current stairs can be converted to an escalator. That seems to be the most logical for both platforms at all four stations since the stairs are all in a straight line, which is great for putting in an escalator. It may be that only one stair can be switched per platform though.

      2. I like the center platform idea. Pioneer square and University Street would be easy. May take more time to retro Westlake because of the style of mezanine. But if they are going to add another tunnel beneath it anyway, that would be the time to coordinate that idea.

    1. Transit escalators are different than all other escalators. They have a built-in self-destruct feature.

    2. Going to guess the uneven wear is way less of an issue there than in a high-traffic transit station.

      Abolishing the “walk-left stand-right” custom that is, let’s face it, a proximate root cause of the uneven wear would be next to impossible. So many angers. Probably as popular as jaywalking or cycling enforcement actions.

      1. Or the direction could be switched every day and there could be exit and platform arrows projected on the floor, sort of like IKEA

  5. “the step chains wear differently when running in an opposite direction (most people tend to stand to the right, which causes the right side of the chain to stretch more than the left).”

    That sounds to me like they should routinely run the escalators in the opposite direction routinely to even out the wear so either one can run in either direction when needed. This introduces some traffic flow issues because of people walking on the left, but might be worth it.

    1. That’s what ST did at UW and Capitol Hill stations, reversed the escalators every few weeks to even the wear, but it was roundly criticized.

      1. Is there anything people won’t raise a stink about? If it reduces wear and allows for reversal when needed, let them complain.

  6. At this point, I feel like ST should just hire an in-house escalator repair team that operates like emergency first responders. The Kone company appears to be highly ineffective.

  7. Something doesn’t smell right about the escalator direction thing. Even in Miami’s poorly maintained, under funded Metrorail system built in the 70’s, escalator direction is changed for the peak traffic flow *twice every day* at stations without escalators in both directions. I doubt this process takes as long as repairing an escalator. I believe this is common in other cities too. Am I missing something?

    1. Agreed. There are plenty of systems in the world that change direction multiple times a day. I’ve seen this in Munich (where it’s automated), Budapest, and even in St Petersburg Russia. The Soviet-era St Petersburg escalators change direction frequently with an operator at the bottom of each of the escalators sets changing direction as demand dictates throughout the day.

    2. That sounds entirely consistent with Seattle’s issue as described by Scott Gutierrez. They don’t routinely change escalator direction, so they have asymmetrical wear on the escalators, which prevents them from changing escalator direction on a one-off basis. If they routinely changed escalator direction, it sounds like they wouldn’t have this issue.

      (Which suggests that they *should* routinely change escalator direction.)

    3. Didn’t you know? Seattle is a special snowflake and literally everything has to be done differently here.

      1. On topic because we’re talking first response jargon: What’s a snowflake? Thanks, Felsen. This could be critical when they ALL go down at once!


  8. Today was the first day in 6 weeks that the Westlake southbound platform north escalator was working. The upper up escalator at Pine is still down.

    Id rather the station design actually be more like DSTT with one escalator and one stair. There isnt enough room for 2 escalators and a stair, and Id rather there always be a stair available unlike Capitol Hill and UW stations relying entirely on escalators to/from the platform. Not having a down escalator is fine with me for the inevitable escalator breakdowns when id rather be able to have access to the platform.

  9. Pioneer Square Station?

    When I was there in February, an escalator was out of service with a repair warning label from July 2017.

    Seriously, everything about Pioneer Square Station suggests it is abandoned infrastructure, but Metro somehow forget to lock the doors and turn off the power.

    1. Every station needs down escalators if there is just one elevator that goes between an entrance and the platform. While having two elevators should be preferred, at least a down escalator is there for people to use. Keep in mind that half of the population above retirement age have arthritis, and a quarter of all adult women do; in many of these cases, going down stairs is more difficult and painful than going up them.

      1. Counter intuitive, but true. I know from experience that after an injury going down is much worse than up. And age is almost as inevitable as death and taxes.

      2. Another related issue to a missing down escalator is the elevator usage issue. Elevator use goes up significantly without a down escalator and is thus more prone to breaking down. Mt Baker Station is a classic example of this as well as the DSTT.

  10. Been told that in the armed forces, an instructing officer will describe something like packed escalator with equally deadly things at both ends, point to a trainee and demand: “What do you do, Lieutenant?” So whatever Kone and the culture of Seattle are doing. And not. Let’s discuss.

    Does anybody say “Civil Defense” anymore? Because in the 1950’s it wasn’t just hiding under desks in first grade. Ordinary citizens- many of them both WWII and Korea veterans- considered it their duty to know first aid, and also organizing people around them to respond to immediate danger.

    An escalator goes down. Security needs to be intensively trained to start giving directions, and a fair number of passengers ready to respond automatically. Communications obviously down- like for two hours- somebody knowing the right number to call to start getting things straightened out. Has anybody reading this got experience in response like this?

    Because positive action is as contagious as fear. The very effort of organizing a program like this should have an immediate and very powerful effect- doubtless beginning with fear of lawsuits. But approval by fire and police should be good counterweight. And no doubt whatever than whenever participants and their leaders speak, the Sound Transit Board will listen.

    Especially if this morning’s newspaper account is true. About what all that’s been promised is impossible to train or pay for. Wait a minute: Is “Snowflake” code for bike lanes, escalators, or driver shortage? Would definitely sharpen STB’s content and delivery! And something serious, from experience:

    When the question mark sharpens like the Grim Reaper’s sickle, Boards and County Councils start listening with respect to testimony from that morning’s shift behind a bus steering wheel or a train controller. Also- with social media, you can star in your own adventures on YouTube.

    You’ll know first time you take the wheel, throw the switch, pop the emergency brake off and make your first right turn leaving your poles on the wire and leaving the power pole standing… belong there or you don’t.


    Mark Dublin

  11. Another solution is an exceedingly long downhill tunnel with ramp where the entrance is a distance away. I’ve accessed stations in Buenos Aires, Lisbon, and Paris that way. Add to that ramp some retail along it and at least you would have something to look at and a chance to fulfill some errands while you are walking.

    Not practical for the really deep stations, but for a station like the ID that’s relatively shallow it could work. But then your signage has to be on point, not a strong suit around here.

    1. Excellent solution for a lot of reasons, baselle. But a lot of conditions have to be favorable. Much of a pain as bad signage can be, it doesn’t have to be dynamited to build. Tempting, though.


    2. Foreign countries don’t have the limits on ramp that the U.S. does because of ADA.

      ADA is 1:12. For every foot of grade change, a ramp needs to be 12 feet long. Then there must be a landing every 30 feet in length, or 2.5 feet in elevation change. Getting a floor above a caternary wire takes at least 24 or 25 feet from a platform. 24 feet grade x 12 is 288 feet, then adding 10 landings at 6 feet each means a ramp at 348 feet. That’s almost about two Downtown blocks in length. Would people go two blocks out of direction for a walking ramp between a mezzanine and a platform?

  12. I hope those escalators have a good manufacturer guarantee so we aren’t paying huge repair fees each time they go out.

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