Biding time at Bethesda escalator
At Bethesda Metrorail station on Tuesday, the peak of the peak surcharge began uneventfully at 4:30 p.m. The peak of the peak that riders were more likely to notice began at 5:12 p.m. That's when the stopped escalator between the platform and mezzanine started to create its peak crowd of waiting riders.
Now, as crowds go, this did not match the Tuesday scene at Foggy Bottom Station, where problems with the fare gates created lengthy delays. The difference is that Bethesda riders have been enduring their bottleneck since the early spring and will continue to experience it through October.
It isn't a mistake, or a glitch in the system, that has knocked out the Bethesda escalator. This is by design. It's part of Metro's long-term rehabilitation plan for the system's aging and problem-plagued escalators.
The repairs at Bethesda show up a flaw in the design of the station and raise questions in the minds of many riders about the design of the repair program. The riders want the escalators fixed, but they don't believe it should take more than half a year to do it.
If you look at the Bethesda situation as a mechanical problem, Metro's approach makes some sense: Start the rehab by tearing up one escalator and turn off the one next to it temporarily so riders can use it as an up or down staircase. When you're done fixing the one escalator, you turn that one into a walker and tear up the other.
But if you look at it as a people-moving problem -- and that's definitely how the riders look at it -- the situation is different. Even though there's an elevator at the far end of the platform, the bank of two escalators is essentially the only way to move a lot of riders to and from the station's mezzanine.
At 5:12 p.m. Tuesday, the Red Line trains from downtown started to arrive rapidly and empty scores of passengers onto the platform. At the same time, a lot of people getting out of work in Bethesda arrived on the mezzanine. They all had to use the escalator as a two-way staircase.
I watched the scene till 5:45 p.m. and tried to calculate how long it took to clear the platform. My watch had it up to four minutes, but then the unloading trains became so frequent that for about 20 minutes, the waiting crowd at the escalator never fully cleared.
This was not a dangerous situation, but it was really annoying. Many of these people were not done with their homeward commute. They needed to catch buses upstairs. It was less annoying than it might have been because people were pretty polite.
Most striking was that people generally stayed to the right when they got on the stopped escalator. Rarely did anyone bolt up the left hand side, into the path of a downward-bound passenger.
Maybe they've all been doing this for so long, they're just used to it. The repairs on one escalator were completed last week. It's now the staircase while the other is torn up and barricaded.
What to an engineer might look like a three or four month cycle of escalator repair, followed by another three or four month cycle of repair, doesn't look like that to these riders. When you're waiting in a crowd on a platform, a busted escalator is a busted escalator. All you know is that you're in this platform crowd most of 2010.
I walked back and forth between the stopped escalator and the elevator. There never was much of a crowd at the elevator. At most, an elevator rider would have waited by the platform door for one trip before boarding. That was definitely faster than walking the escalator at the height of the Tuesday rush hour.
This isn't a solution. If people take me up on this tip, the elevator line will get longer without really easing the problem at the escalator. That's why Metro should be looking at a modified repair program that lessens the continuing impact on riders at some of these crowded stations.
| August 4, 2010; 1:55 PM ET
Categories: Metro | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail, escalators
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