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Sound Transit’s solution for Capitol Hill Station escalator problems: stairs

(Image: Sound Transit)

Sound Transit announced Thursday a plan to convert an existing emergency staircase inside Capitol Hill Station to provide a permanent alternative to the facility’s frequently out of service escalators and elevators.

The announcement comes as part of a much more significant by the agency to add new staircases at UW Station where the escalators problems have been even an more frequent — and expensive — problem.

“Our escalator plan is proactive: Escalators haven’t been a problem at our Capitol Hill station, but we’ll now make stairs available at all times there too,” Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff said about the plan. “We’ve also changed future U District station design to include stairs on opening day in 2021.”

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In April, CHS reported on Sound Transit’s efforts to address the escalator access problems including application of the “Mitch Hedberg principle” — An escalator can never break: it can only become stairs.

CHS Comics | 4 alternatives to broken light rail escalators

But the agency has decided it must make a more significant and costly change at the two core stations in its system.

At UW, Sound Transit will replace two down escalators to the lowest level with permanent stairs by 2022. Early next year, flights of the emergency stairs between a mezzanine and the track platform will be converted to full-time use. The cost of the changes is expected to exceed $20 million, the Seattle Times reports.

At Capitol Hill Station’s southern Denny entrance, the emergency stairs that connect from the mezzanine level to the platform will be converted with elements like security video systems for use by March 2019.

Seattle is not alone in its poorly performing transit escalators and elevators. In the Bay Area, riders on the BART system have suffered through a spike in breakdowns with some passengers reportedly breaking the rules and climbing the shut-down, blocked-off escalators anyhow.

Reasons for Sound Transit’s mechanical shutdowns vary — at Capitol Hill Station where escalators and elevators deliver riders 65 feet below Broadway to the platform below, Sound Transit said braking components have reportedly been part of the problem. We’ve also documented why Capitol Hill Station’s escalators are sometimes reversed to cut down on wear. In April, the Seattle Transit Blog reported that Sound Transit had purchased escalator equipment that was not “transit-grade.” Thursday, Sound Transit said it would apply “new design criteria to all future stations to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

It also foreshadowed more issues likely to require similar investments in the future as it takes over the Downtown Transit Tunnel and inherits 36 escalators and 22 elevators in 2020.

The 2019 Capitol Hill Station change will come on the third anniversary of the busy $110 million transit facility’s opening.


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13 thoughts on “Sound Transit’s solution for Capitol Hill Station escalator problems: stairs

  1. It’s about damn time. It blows my mind that stairs weren’t included in the original design of the Capitol Hill and U District light rail stations.

  2. Glad they are fixing it now – surprised they made such a poor design choice in the first place by not having stairs.

  3. Stairs are not a viable option for elderly and handicapped people. The short-sightedness of this solution should prompt a lawsuit by the ADA or AARP. I took a ride from Cap Hill to Angle Lake and there was an elevator OR an escalator out of order in EVERY SINGLE STATION. The escalator in the University Station was out of order for 7 months before they fixed it. Now it’s broken again. And you NEVER see anyone working on them. Love the train, but getting to it is a major project if you’re old.

  4. Yes. I have much trouble walking, and stairs are tough. Please include disabled people on every planning committee and commission.

  5. I did and I would again. We need effective public transit and funding is a requirement for that. If we didn’t have funding in the first place, we’d have nothing and our economy would suffer overall. And yes, I want the best management possible of that funding, thus it’s important for people to get involved in advocating for changes in terms of how the money is applied. But I reject false flag arguments that an individual issue means initial budgeting wasn’t valid. As you could extend that entire argument to say no government, business or nonprofit initiative that costs money should ever happen if one element of it has some problems. That said, the outages of elevators are particularly horrible considering the accessibility issues. And I personally am sick of the outage of the north east side main level big screen being out. But if they had no budget, they couldn’t even start to fix either issue. And I’m not forgiving the management and work environment issues they have had. But we still need mass transit, mass light rail regardless.

  6. Saying you shouldn’t approve funding because things might break is about as valid as saying you shouldn’t get paid at your job if you ever make a mistake.

  7. True, but having stairs as an option for those who prefer and can use them will reduce wear and tear on the escalators and elevators, hopefully making them more reliable for those who need them.

  8. The above was intended as a response to Mutha Mary’s comment above. Something isn’t working right with this comments thread.

  9. True, but they should have purchased transit quality escalators and installed working stairways for those who can, and prefer, to use the active option. It is all about moving people. A shame those in charge of doing exactly that failed so spectacularly in design and implementation on the critical last mile- getting riders on and off the train. Sadly, these kind of issues rightly undermine faith that government entities can do things well.

  10. How many of you voted to raise taxes again to give ST $55 billion for ST3?

    55% of voters on November 8, 2016. But what’s that have to do with escalators?