Today’s Globe has a front page article by Jeff Gray (aka Dr. Gridlock) on the subject of escalator safety.
Some months ago, the TTC’s “Walk Left, Stand Right” signs vanished overnight from every escalator in the system. This is an astonishing feat for an organization that can’t keep info about routes anywhere near current and depends on hand written signs to inform its patrons.
Why did the signs disappear? Well, according to the escalator gods, people are not supposed to walk on escalators and the signs might encourage this dangerous behaviour. It’s a safety issue, don’t you see?The TTC has a spotty safety record, but is quick to invoke this mantra as an excuse for bone-headed moves like this one.
What they (and the Provincial Technical Safety and Standards Authority) miss is that many stations don’t operate very well today at the best of times with all escalators running. When one is out of service, chaos and congestion ensue. By the way, the TSSA is the also the group responsible for elevator licences. Remember this the next time you’re on one whose technical integrity leaves a lot to be desired.
People walk on escalators, especially in the rush hour, and the “Walk Left” signs both acknowledged reality and encouraged the less nimble among us to stand to the right. As for stopped escalators, we are not supposed to even use them at all.
Expecting people to avoid a stopped escalator is madness on several counts, not least of which is congestion in the remaining stairways and the fact that people plan their trips around escalator locations. They won’t walk out of their way just because an escalator is stopped, an all too common occurence. If the TTC were serious about this idea, they would barricade off a stopped escalator, but this would likely lead to greater safety problems on the stairways.
At my home station Broadview, the main exit is via a single path from the mezzanine to the surface with an up escalator and a stairway. The escalator is often stopped, and occasionally under repair. When this happens, the stairway cannot handle the demand. Sometime in the next decade, construction at Broadview will finish and there will be stairs from both the platforms up to the bus/streetcar loop. That’s fine for people who happen to be at the east end of the trains, but most riders will encounter the existing exit first and will go up through the main, congested route. They will use any path available, and they will “walk left” up the escalator as they have ever since it was installed.
Speaking of stairways, there were more injuries last year on those than on escalators. Maybe we should avoid using them, or delevop a program to educate riders about stairway safety. Maybe we should close stations and run shuttle bus services when there aren’t enough working escalators.
Heavily used stations would not be able to handle as many riders if nobody walked on the escalators, and they barely manage crowds as things are today. Bloor-Yonge is a particular case in point along with College and to some extent King.
If the TTC plans to increase subway capacity, they will also need more escalator capacity (and/or additional exits) to get people off of the platforms quickly at major stops.
Taking away the “Walk Left, Stand Right” signs may make TTC lawyers sleep soundly (perish the thought I might sue them for encouraging my foolish behaviour), but it ignores the larger context of how subway stations actually work.