Why does it take so long to mend an escalator?
March 7, 2002 5:01 PM   Subscribe

Why does it take so long to mend an escalator? Incisive article which seems to be metaphorically demonstrating the difficulties in repairing society's ills through the voices of mechanical engineering. "The chinks in an escalator's armour are the spaces between step and step, step and wall, and comb plate and step. That is where a shoelace, a scarf, a child's finger or a foot can get caught - which is bad for travellers - and where small hard objects, dragged along and forced between cleats and comb plate, can chew up the aluminium steps, which is punishing for the machine."
posted by feelinglistless (21 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, you can always ask it.
posted by maudlin at 5:05 PM on March 7, 2002

That is a fantastic article. It gave me, uh, weltschmerz, but the happy kind. A definite improvement over The Mezzanine for us escalator fans.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 5:37 PM on March 7, 2002

Would this be a good place for the joke about the guy who got stuck on an escalator during a power failure?

Didn't think so. Carry on.
posted by diddlegnome at 6:07 PM on March 7, 2002

I favor the stairs. Slap whatever sociological microscope you want on that.
posted by dong_resin at 6:09 PM on March 7, 2002

If there's an escalator, I ride on it. My taxes are in some way or another paying to run the damn thing, and I'm going to get my money's worth.
posted by Su at 7:04 PM on March 7, 2002

New York, like London, developed a stand-right, walk-left culture, but Chicago noticeably has not. (Many of the escalators are only what I would call 1½ people wide, anyway; and Chicago has also failed to develop a "let 'em off first" culture at "L" car doors, a source of frustration to those who get off at stops where lots of people also get on.)

I also note the escalator effect with individuals. There's a parking garage downtown that's now closed (and I don't work there anymore anyway). It had a particular escalator that made all sorts of interesting groans and creaks and seemed to intimidate a lot of people -- the hesitancy noted in the article. It didn't help that it was installed in more halcyon days before architects developed theories of personal safety, and so it's sort of around a corner where a miscreant might lurk. The city put a band-aid on this in the form of a convex mirror. My own personal experience of getting this escalator into my animal brain was that I simply needed a glance to the mirror to see if it was running. (Didn't quite get to the sound level, though, partly because of ambient vehicle noise and the like.)

Then there was the fact that the rubber handrail would frequently fall off. I think this was the primary reason it was often inoperative -- and unnecessarily so, as I found that a moment's attention applying side force with my hand would restore the handrail to working order. All you needed was enough so that it would 'grab' and then get pulled down the hole at the top, which would guide the rest in. I put that handrail back a bunch of times.

Only some of the "L" system has very long escalators, mainly the fairly deep subway lines beneath the Loop. (They are actually deeper than the coal-delivery rail tunnels that famously flooded a decade ago (gasp, I feel old).) When those are dead, it's a bitch to climb up. Oddly, though, most of the elevated stations do not have any mechanized access to the platform level. You get used to climbing up.
posted by dhartung at 8:38 PM on March 7, 2002

The most facinating elevator I've seen was at a Target store in Burlingame, CA, USA. It moved your shopping cart downstairs/upstairs, while you rode the people part. Which naturally was paralell to it, about a meter away. Everyone in my party wanted to ride in the cart on the way down between floors. Buncha chickens, no one did it after me.
posted by gnz2001 at 8:58 PM on March 7, 2002

Gnz: I've seen things like that, I think at the Inno in Paris. And at a large supermarket in La Defense, they have a stepless escalator and shopping wagons with magnets on them to grip the surface as you go up or down.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:33 PM on March 7, 2002

Who are these people that stand left when there are signs that say "stand right walk left". In Vancouver most people seem to get it....but there's always that one commuter.

I hate those people. Those people drive under the speed limit in the passing lane.
posted by Salmonberry at 9:34 PM on March 7, 2002

Ah, escalators. Lack of depth perception (and a nagging fear of heights) keeps me from riding them on a descent. And I can't ride the ones in the London tube at all. They're too steep and too long. I tip my cap to Londoners who ride those things as part a daily commute. I'd have to take a bus.
posted by Dreama at 9:39 PM on March 7, 2002

So would my mom, Dreama. She always made one of us kids get on the escalator before her. I don't know how she got around in the mall if we weren't with her.
posted by diddlegnome at 10:15 PM on March 7, 2002

Probably the same way I do, diddlegnome - stairs and elevators.
posted by Dreama at 12:20 AM on March 8, 2002

New York, like London, developed a stand-right, walk-left culture, but Chicago noticeably has not.

Goes with the road system: slow-right, pass-left.

Many of the escalators are only what I would call 1½ people wide, anyway

Are they just really old? You should try the Macy's Herald Square upper floor woodies!
posted by HTuttle at 2:56 AM on March 8, 2002

The wooden escalators in London are a strange ride. Do they still have any? I haven't been in a while.

Escalators are rare here. There was a set of them in the train station but they never worked -- I think they were Russian, so no one could get parts. When they finally replaced them a few years back with standard western stuff, people were unused to them and visibly wary -- they could eat your feet, maybe -- but then kids started playing on the new toys and people got used to them. Standers do not keep right. If you're in a hurry, you run the steps.
posted by pracowity at 3:23 AM on March 8, 2002

Why is it that London can figure out the proper traffic configuration on escalators, but not roads?
posted by NortonDC at 4:59 AM on March 8, 2002

Escalators kill.

"At the same time, the plate covering the stationary step at the bottom of the escalator gave way, exposing a pit. Jyotsna, who was struggling for balance, fell headlong into the pit. The serrated edges of the steps bit into her torso, shredding her body. All hell broke loose for several minutes as no one on duty came to her aid."
posted by bittennails at 5:25 AM on March 8, 2002

The question is "Do they kill more than stairs?"
posted by NortonDC at 5:55 AM on March 8, 2002

*assumption*, since stairs have been around longer, my opinion would be that they have taken more lives.
posted by bittennails at 6:53 AM on March 8, 2002

Yesterday, 8:20:25h at top of perpetually broken escalator in Grand Central Terminal: given brochure for NYC Kabbalah Center

Yesterday: 8:21:01 at bottom of perpetually broken escalator in Grand Central Terminal: placed said brochure in nun's donation hat.
posted by ParisParamus at 6:57 AM on March 8, 2002

> Escalators kill.

Normal stairs have smooth edges, don't move, and don't have electric dragons waiting underneath, but you have to move your feet from step to step, which makes you much more likely to trip and break your neck, and climbing normal steps must trigger quite a few heart attacks.

An escalator is a set of normal stairs plus sharp teeth on the edges of the steps, moving steps (which make take-off and landing dangerous), and a large motor growling just under the floor.

BUT: not climbing steps regularly (and thus exercising one's heart) must cause as many heart attacks as climbing them. And people often run up and down escalators like stairs, which then combines the dangers of both.

Step for step, flight for flight, I'd bet an escalator is more dangerous than normal stairs unless you're already too sick, old, or fat to navigate stairs.

(Or unless the stairs are the ones outside my friend's apartment after that one New Year's Eve party. I flew head first through the dark...)
posted by pracowity at 7:16 AM on March 8, 2002

New York, like London, developed a stand-right, walk-left culture

Dude, which New York do you live in? People here tend to walk wherever there's an open spot, which is utterly maddening and disrepectful, IMHO. Last year, I remember, there was a brief surge in signs on subway stairs directing people which side to walk on- they were, of course, ignored.
posted by mkultra at 7:28 AM on March 8, 2002

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