Link light rail in Mount Baker Station
A Central Link light rail train pulls into the Mount Baker Station (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Live and learn:

Sound Tran­sit has giv­en up on its fail­ure-prone esca­la­tors at Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton Sta­tion next to Husky Sta­di­um, and says they’ll be replaced soon by a com­bi­na­tion of stairs and stronger escalators.

In addi­tion, the U Dis­trict Sta­tion open­ing in 2021 will be redesigned to include stairs to the low­er lev­el where peo­ple board the trains — instead of depend­ing entire­ly on esca­la­tors like the deep UW [Sta­di­um] and Capi­tol Hill Sta­tions do currently.

That will be done through a change order to the contractors.

By March of next year, an emer­gency stair­case at Capi­tol Hill Sta­tion will be con­vert­ed to all-day pub­lic use, the agency also says.

Mal­func­tion­ing esca­la­tors are the bane of tran­sit agen­cies every­where, not just around here. When I was in Paris last month, I encoun­tered bro­ken or out of ser­vice esca­la­tors in Metro sta­tions more than once. The mov­ing walk­ways found in air­ports and oth­er facil­i­ties — a cousin of esca­la­tors — also are prone to breaking.

It’s true Sound Tran­sit could have ordered the tougher “tran­sit grade” esca­la­tors for its sta­tions instead of the cheap­er com­mer­cial ones (and it should have!) but that does­n’t mean there would­n’t have been breakdowns.

The main les­son here is that it pays to invest in well engi­neered, care­ful­ly thought out sta­tions instead of try­ing to save a few bucks here and there on things like esca­la­tors — espe­cial­ly to appease naysay­ers who will nev­er be happy.

Road war­rior crit­ics of Sound Tran­sit are con­stant­ly demand­ing the impos­si­ble: build high qual­i­ty tran­sit on the cheap (and fast), or not at all.

That is a false choice which we have repeat­ed­ly rejected.

The agen­cy’s plan to con­vert esca­la­tors to stairs and replace the stan­dard esca­la­tors with the tran­sit-grade ones makes a lot of sense.

Plain old stairs can take a pound­ing and don’t go out of ser­vice at inop­por­tune times. Ele­va­tors will still be avail­able for those in wheel­chairs or walk­ers, plus rid­ers with strollers, bicy­cles, and luggage.

Sound Tran­sit is already plan­ning ahead for its new sta­tions to ensure that none have the kind of esca­la­tor bot­tle­necks that Capi­tol Hill and Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton Sta­tions have had. The plat­forms at the sta­tions that are due to open in the 2020s (like those in Belle­vue and Red­mond) will all be acces­si­ble via stairs alone, so that esca­la­tors don’t stop rid­ers from get­ting to or from the trains.

Apply­ing lessons learned from the first phase of Link light rail’s build out will def­i­nite­ly ben­e­fit sta­tions that are due to be added in the sec­ond and third phases.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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