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Sound Transit discovers stairs may be solution to problematic escalators

Construction on the UW light rail station in 2013. What wasn't included in that construction were stairs leading from the mezzanine to the station platform. (Sound Transit)

When the escalators at the University of Washington light rail station go down there’s only one solution. Make everyone stand in line and wait for the elevator.

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That was the case March 16, when both down escalators leading to the station platform were out of order. One person tweeted it was taking 20 minutes or more simply to get to the platform.

Sound Transit studied the problem and came up with a possible solution: use the escalators as stairs.

By the end of April, the agency will have finished evaluating the use of escalators at the UW station as stairs. According to a presentation given to the Sound Transit Board of Directors, escalators could only be used as stairs if:

  • Both sets of escalators are down
  • They are not being worked on
  • The escalators are locked in place
  • Staff is at the top and bottom of the escalator to assist customers

The station does not have public stairs from the mezzanine. The only public stairs are those that lead from the surface to the mezzanine. There are emergency stairs, however. Sound Transit is considering using those stairs in the event the escalators are down.

The escalators down to the 95-foot-deep UW station platform are long. Probably why the agency doesn’t want to let the public walk them unsupervised.

There is no Revised Code of Washington or Washington Administrative Code provisions that prohibit the use of escalators as stairs. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers code directive suggests they are never used as stairs by the public. Labor and Industries recommend escalator steps are not the “correct height for normal walking” and “should not be used as stairs.”

Of course, there’s a permanent solution to Sound Transit’s conveyance debacle. That is by installing escalators that work all the time, the Sound Transit Board was told on April 5.

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“That may not be achievable,” the board was told.

However, the most recent performance analysis of the escalators are encouraging, the board was told. Since February 2017, escalator availability shot above 95 percent — at twice the cost to maintain as the agency’s other escalators.

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