Service of Escalators: When Moving Stairs Stand Still

February 2nd, 2023

Categories: Escalator, Subway, Transportation

Escalator at the USPS at 909 Third Avenue has been broken for ages…

The best escalator I’ve come across is one of the many at the Javits Center. It takes you to the highest level accessible by escalator and is near 34th Street. It starts off flat for a long stretch before heading downward making it easy for the faint of heart and those with suitcases. There should be more like it.

But this post is about escalators that are out of order or might be.

The escalator that takes you up and out of the basement where the goods and cashiers are located at Trader Joe’s on Third Avenue and 32nd Street is often on the fritz. Fortunately, there’s a small elevator that holds a few customers. I can’t lug up the frozen stairs the bottles of juice, fizzy water, milk and soup that weigh down my little carrier-on-wheels. It won’t survive the strain.

It’s been months since one of two steep escalators has been out of order at the post office at 909 Third Avenue. [Photo above.] I’ve never seen anyone working on it.

A week ago I was at the elevated Woodside, Queens subway stop which intersects the Long Island Railroad. I was early meeting a friend. It was cold –the station is outdoors. I thought I’d grab a cup of coffee at a bodega downstairs but decided against it as the up escalator was on the fritz with a line of weary passengers slogging up the narrow stairs. [I later discovered an elevator.]

The escalators at Bloomingdale’s, such as this one, always work.

Why this list of broken escalators? I thought of them because of the buzz about the super steep new escalators at Grand Central Madison, the $11+ billion, 700,000 square foot station that connects the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central Terminal on the East Side of Manhattan. (Previously trains from LI stopped only on the West Side at Penn Station.)

After I wrote the copy above I came across what Adriane Quinlan wrote in curbed.com. We were on the same wavelength. She described the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s longest escalators as follows: “Arrayed in four ranks that parallel 45th through 48th Streets, each of the 17 chugging sets of steps is about 182 feet long and drops 90 feet vertically to the mezzanines above the tracks. It takes one minute and 38 seconds to ride down — an interminable lifetime for a restless commuter, particularly if you’re late.”

She quoted one commuter as describing it as “entering a ride at an amusement park.” She reported that “the MTA is bad at keeping even its everyday, one-level escalators running, let alone the longer ones.” (Remember what I discovered at the Woodside station.) And “According to the MTA’s own portal, almost one in ten of its escalators quit working at some point last month, probably just before you arrived with bags of groceries.” Quinlan reported that one of the new escalators at Grand Central Madison was being repaired an hour after opening.

There are 22 elevators and 47 escalators–at 45th, 46th, 47th, and 48th streets. I couldn’t determine, after a quick search on Google, whether any elevators went from street level to tracks or if passengers would first go to mezzanine level and then to the train. Nor could I learn how big the elevators are. I expressed my concern to a friend about whether there were a sufficient number of elevators to take passengers out of this MTA canyon at rush hour if enough escalators were disabled. She’s an engineer. She assured me that she was certain that any number of studies had been made to determine the number and size of elevator required in such an instance.

Don’t get me wrong: I think that the service is terrific. Quinlan reported that one passenger from Queens whose job is on First Avenue in Manhattan saves 40 minutes on his commute. I simply was concerned, given my observations of broken escalators, about being stuck in long lines for elevators up or down in the manmade ravine should there be multiple escalator glitches caused by repair delays. Maybe the MTA should find out who services the escalators at department stores, like Bloomingdale’s, that seem to be in order most of the time.

Are you escalator averse? Do you have escalator anecdotes or favorite ones?

I took this photo of an escalator from street to mezzanine level at 42nd Street before Grand Central Madison opened.

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9 Responses to “Service of Escalators: When Moving Stairs Stand Still”

  1. TC Said:

    ASSUME ESCALATORS ARE HIGH MAINTENANCE MACHINES. ESP IF THEY ARE ALSO HIGH USE. MABE EVEN LIKE ELEVATORS. CANNOT IMAGINE HOW RAPID EVACUATION WOULD WORK.

  2. BC Said:

    No escalators in my life unless I go into a department store like Macy’s!

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:

    TC,

    That too–of course! I was thinking about getting to work when standard stairs would be too much of a challenge both up and down.

  4. Warren Shoulberg Said:

    Warren on Facebook: It has its ups and downs. Sorry, somebody had to say it….

  5. Debbie Kunen Said:

    Debbie on Facebook: They do look daunting!

  6. lucrezia Said:

    Escalators are godsends to those with short breath and other disabilities. Of concern are the ultra-steep versions which may invite tragic results on the way down.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    It was not just for those in wheelchairs or stranded because escalators were on the fritz that I wanted to know about elevators and was surprised that there was so little written about them. Some might not be thrilled going down on such a steep one. Up not as frightening.

  8. Martha Takayama Said:

    I am very afraid os escalators. The ones in the Boston subways have had serious disasters and are always. having problems.
    I also am afraid of heights. I find the combination of escalators, vast heights and long distances terrifying.

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    You are not alone–yet another reason for my interest in the elevators to and from the tracks so far below Grand Central.

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