Dear PoP – Why Aren’t There More Stairs at Metro?

by Prince Of Petworth November 3, 2010 at 2:30 pm 42 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user julianne’s

“Dear PoP,

With the recent talk (read: begging) for an additional metro entrance at foggy bottom, the examiner reports that the cost for an additional entrance would be >$20m. This is likely due to the escalators. Which leads to my question, why aren’t there numerous metro entrances at more stations using good old fashioned stairs? There exists escalators and elevators for the handicapped and infirm so, so its not a question of making the Metro accessible. Any ideas?”

It’s a great question – especially considering how often the escalators break down. Anyone know why there aren’t more regular stairs?

  • Anonymous

    Because people in DC are lazy and used to being chauffeured around.

    • Anonymous

      Not true. Most of the people I see are marching up the left side of the escalators anyway (or trying to, anyway).

    • Yeah – that is a completely foolish assumption by an idiot.

      How embarrasing for you.

  • kimimary

    In the words of the great Mitch Hedberg, “Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience.”

    • Q-Street


  • ah

    Ask this question on the hottest day in July.

    In seriousness, each entrance costs a lot of money. And the bigger the entrance the more it costs. Metro built 3 escalators to make sure that at least one worked some of the time, so didn’t have room for stairs in many locations.

    Also, it strikes me that for the shorter distance entrances there often are stairs–cheaper to create extra room for stairs and people are more likely to take them.

  • I think the Convention Center station setup is perfect. Two escalators up, two down and stairs in the center. Next best would be one up one down and stairs in the center.

    I do not like those setup with three escalators. Those should have their center escalator ripped out and replaced with stairs. That way when one side has to be taken down people have stairs to walk up/down on which is easier than walking on stationary escalators.

  • Tim

    I humbly request that we not refer to people with disabilities as handicapped or infirm. Please know I’m not trying to be inflamatory, but it hurts my feelings to see if on my beloved blog.

    • Mr. Poon

      Poon prefers calling them “‘s Girbenlergers” (it’s a Dutch-Frisian-Icelandic hybrid, since it’s no longer to use appropriate words.

      Also, descripttors only have a 20-year lifespan before they become offensive. So Poon has already trademarked and lined up the term “blarf” to be implemented circa 2031.

  • Ariella Kadosh-Weiser.

    Imagine stairs at Rosslyn…..

    • anon

      or Dupont

      • m

        or Wheaton……

    • Ragged Dog

      Or a slip ‘n slide.

      • annonymous


  • Mr. Poon

    Nixon made a back room deal with Big Escalator.

    We need to take our country back from the special interests! Poon for governor.

  • Promice Stevens

    There are escalators in the system because most of the stations are pretty far underground, and regardless of passengers’ physical capabilities or lack thereof, they’re simply a more efficient way of moving steady streams of people than stairs.

  • anon.

    I am trying to remember something.
    Help me out although not entirely on point to this question.

    It seems to me that the Capitol South station, which does have stairs, did not originally have them when it opened.

    Also, I am sure of this, again at Capitol South, between the mezzanine and the platform level, originally there had only been escalators connecting the levels but a set of stairs was put in later. I am sure of this one.

    • davidj

      In ancient days I lived a block from Capitol South, and the original situation was indeed as you remember: only escalators, no stairways. Maybe 15 years ago they completely rebuilt the mezzanine-to-surface part, the 3 escalators which had previously taken up all the space being moved closer together to make room for the stairway. A bit later, maybe 10 or 12 years ago, they cut a hole in the mezzanine and built the mezzanine-to-platform stairs.

  • Also, do not underestimate the cost of safely digging a huge, properly-reinforced hole deep into the ground while not damaging any surrounding and/or connecting structures. I would guess that the price of the escalators is probably a much lower percentage of the cost than you are estimating.

    • workfromhomer


  • Kardinal

    I would bet a pretty penny that the cost of ~$20M is NOT due to escalators.

    First off, the Metro would have to buy the land/space that the stair/escalators would exit onto the street. That couple thousand sq. feet in Foggy Bottom is probably a few million.

    Then I cant imagine the govt & construction fees & insurance that it would cost to drill a 50 foot wide hole underneath/alongside existing businesses. Additionally, metro stop will probably have to be closed during part of the construction (on, say, some weekends), so you have loss of revenue.

    Then there’s the etc. etc. and etc.

    My point is that escalators (while very expensive) are most likely NOT what is keeping another entrance from being created.

    • Well said. The $20 million cost has little to do with escalators. It has everything to do with digging a giant hole in the ground, relocating utilities, breaking into an existing station without disrupting trains, etc.

      I’d also point out that the proposed entrance to be added to Foggy Bottom only had escalators for the Street to Mezzanine link – the mezz. to platform link would be stairs only. There would be new elevators installed as well, but the primary mode for most people would be on the stairs and via escalator.

    • Jason

      Thanks Kardinal, that makes a lot of sense. I would guess that the 20m price tag for a new foggy bottom entrance could be reduced, but perhaps not halved by making it stairs only. Stairs only may also reduce operations costs (repairs, power, etc), but again not enough to justify not including the escalators.

  • Jason

    Well, not just stairs next to the escalator. But, separate, independent entrances using only stairs. For example, why not build a stairs only entrance at foggy bottom? people with disabilities (is that ok?) and the those with a broken leg (infirm) can use the escalator and elevator. But it could reduce congestion, make things a bit safer for pedestrians, and is less expensive than escalators.

  • Goku

    A lot of those stations are deep as hell though….

    Metro had to have set a few records for building such deep stations, just look at Wheaton, it has the longest escalators in the western hemisphere and the only ones in the system to have multiple safety units. I’d hate to fall down that one of those…let alone one of them malfunction.

  • quincycyclist

    Escalators are only a small cost for the entire project. A lot of the cost comes from having to dig a big hole in the ground, move around utilities, etc.

    The potential new Foggy Bottom entrance would include stairs, escalators, and elevators from the surface to the mezzanine, but only stairs and elevators from the mezzanine to the platform.

  • bob loblaw

    broken escalator = stairs

    • Marcus Aurelius

      Kudos to the rocket scientists who did not realize that having escalators that are exposed to the elements might be somewhat problemmatic.

      • ah


        Broken escalators < stairs.

    • Pennyworth

      ^^^ +10

  • Anonymous

    When you are 9 months pregnant in August and the escalator is broken and the elevator isn’t coming and smells like piss enough to make you want to vomit anyways, you will get tears in your eyes when you waddle your ass through the turnstyle and come to find the escalator is broken. Most other times I am an advocate for stairs or using the escalator as stairs.

  • victoria
  • Native American JD

    The Americans with Disabilities Act?

    • Anonymous

      does the ADA address escalators?
      wouldn’t the elevator have that covered?

  • lou

    If there isn’t an escalator with the stairs, you still run into the mob scene. Check out Union Station some time. The escalator is closed for repairs on the end closest to Mass Ave and you end up with bunches of people waiting to either go down the stairs or up them. and sometimes people don’t go single file, blocking access for the people going in the opposite direction.

  • Rosemary

    I would also add that I don’t see how some of these stations (particularly when one escalator is out of service and blocked off) are not deemed incredibly unsafe in case of fire. People would be trapped.

    • K

      Thank you- and no kidding! If people ever needed to get out of a metro station quickly, we would all die. Aside from the inconvenience of having a delay and then having to walk up escalator steps instead of regular stairs – this really bugs me with escalators constantly shut down for “modernization”.

  • Anonymous

    all the more reason to take the bus.

  • Anonymous too

    Try the Archives/Navy Memorial station during morning rush hour when two trains come in at the same time. What a nuisance–there are no stairs to the lower platform and the only way out is the single up escalator. When one of the (only two) escalators is closed for repairs, it’s even worse. Aside from the nuisance, it’s a huge safety hazard and I shudder to think what would happen in a true emergency with all of those people trying to get out of the station on the single up escalator (I certainly wouldn’t count on the elevator in an emergency). What’s really amazing is that not only is there plenty of room on the platform for stairs, there is actually a hole already punched in the floor where they could easily installed with a minimum of construction or cost. That this has never been done in such a heavily used station is absolutely inexcusable.

  • Save

    I’m sure Metro could save loads of money if it ran it’s escalators more efficiently. I’ve been to several countries where the escalators have sensors and turn off and on as needed (especially off peak hours). It bothers me seeing so much energy wasted by constantly running empty escalators.


Subscribe to our mailing list