Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Are Metro Stations Plagued with Exit Bottlenecks?

What if you needed to get out of a Metro station in a hurry because of an emergency like a terrorist attack or, more likely, another accident?

Reader "tempsperdu" made the following observation at L'Enfant Plaza:

I complained to a Metro kiosk attendant [yesterday] that Metro had closed one of two escalators at one of the L'Enfant Plaza exits. A GINORMOUS crowd of people was trying to fit onto the ONLY working escalator which, by the way, was turned off and was being used as stairs!
There is a heightened mass transit alert against terrorists!
The two Metro kiosk attendants looked at me and then resumed their conversation.

The Washington Post is reporting that "authorities in Washington and elsewhere were stepping up safety patrols on mass transit systems in response to an advisory issued in connection with the probe" of an Afghan man arrested in Colorado with a possible connection to a terrorist plot.

Metro, in a press release, strikes a slightly different tone:

"'We have no specific information from intelligence sources that would lead us to believe there is a threat to our system at this time, yet MTPD officers remain vigilant,' said Metro Transit Police Chief Michael A. Taborn. He added that there are no plans to institute random bag inspections."

Regardless, if there ever were an emergency, there are more than a handful of stations that would be pretty hard to get out of if a quick evacuation was needed.

The two stations we frequent the are East Falls Church and Federal Center SW. EFC is above ground, but Federal Center is below ground and served by only two escalators--not two sets, two--and an elevator on the platform level, all are usually working. It's never that crowded, but on the rare occasion when two trains pull in at the same time, there's quite a clusterfuck at the bottom of the escalators.

Many stations were not built to handle the crowds Metro now transports daily. Gallery Place/Chinatown, is a nightmare to get out of at times and Metro Center and Archives have both been known to present egress problems during "normal" rush hour. What would they be like in a panic? How would emergency crews get in?

What are some other Metro bottlenecks you've noticed?

Other items:
NTSB makes more recommendations to Metro (WaPo)
Metro all over it (WMATA)
Hey, the doors problems weren't all your fault after all (WaPo)
Metro fixing doors on cars it should get rid of (Examiner)

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24 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Union Station, on the end that goes toward the Marc Trains and 1st Street. First of all, half the time, one or both escalators are out of service. Regardless of that, everytime a Metro train, or Marc train empties, there is a huge bottleneck all over the station. Sometimes, the line to get up the escalator to get out of the station goes halfway down the platform!

Atiyah said...

I agree with Elizabeth Union Station. Its bad enough when riders get off the trains going towards the MARC trains and they are running or block the train doors to the point where we can't get on it in the evenings.

newsjunkie said...

Shady Grove is IMPOSSIBLE to get out of. There is a total bottleneck every time a train arrives and it can take 5-10 minutes on a normal day to even get to the first step of the staircase or escalator. If there was panic and people were pushing, I have no doubt people would be trampled.

Steven Schwark said...

I second the 1st St exit of Union Station. Now that trains pull up to the front of the platform (right by that exit's single ascending escalator), it creates even more problems. There have even been a few days where Glenmont-bound trains were delayed as far back as Metro Center and Gallery Pl-Chinatown because no one could get off the train at Union Station since the platform was full of people from the previous train simply trying to exit the station!

Sometimes you even seen folks running up the down escalators just to avoid the crowd / catch their commuter rail train.

Michael said...

Pentagon off of the platform for southbound trains in the evening. If you get off a yellow train before you have made it onto the escalator (because of the line) a blue line train pulls up.

Anonymous said...

Definitely Gallery Place/China Town. Especially if you are on the lower level where the yellow/green lines are, it's a nightmare to get up the escalators!

Anonymous said...

Oddly, sometimes getting IN to foggy bottom is a nightmare.

Anonymous said...

Foggy Bottom in both directions. If one elevator goes down, it's chaos. You'd think being next to a hospital you might have workers able to walk stairs, but I've never seen so many huffing and puffing obese people.

Anonymous said...

Definitely Shady Grove, which is especially bad if there are delays in the evening rush hour and 2 full trains pull in back-to-back. I'd like to have a word with the genius who decided that an end of the line station should have exactly 2 escalators (1 up, 1 down) and one tiny set of stairs in between.

Anonymous said...

I quit riding the Red Line because of the backups at Shady Grove. You have to plan where you ride in the train. If you pick the right car, you can have your door pull up right in front of the escalator. If not, you are out of luck. Bottom line. Metro didn't plan for growth, naturally. That wasn't in its mission. Its a jobs program first. Plain and simple.

A.Smith said...

Good post and excellent point.

What struck me is way off topic, though.

I heard a commercial this morning on the radio done by Metro proclaiming that (among a LOT of other things) we should notice a new attitude amongst employees as a result of a new "responsibility" culture at Metro.

The response tempsperdu had, though, has me not holding my breath on that front. Truly, I think so much about metro would be better if their employees had better attitudes...

Anonymous said...

Gallery Place and Metro Center take the prize, but really most of the stations in the downtown core can be a mess at rush hour, especially if two trains pull in at the same time. Farragut West and Farragut North are usually bad, even though they have multiple exits. I have seen big bottleneck problems at McPherson (again, even though it has exits on both ends of the platform), and Federal Triangle (only one exit, albeit with two routes down to the train platform). And of course Smithsonian can be a complete zoo, not so much at rush hour but at heavy tourist times of the year, which is compounded by the large number of inexperienced riders confused about the fare cards, families with small children and strollers, etc.
I don't blame the original designers too much for this - nobody expected that the region would grow so much and that the Metro system would become so popular. In fact, back in the day, nobody knew if Metro would even be successful at all. So if they had made things bigger, there would have been massive criticism of Metro's delusions of grandeur in building a system to handle New York-size crowds in a city the size of Baltimore.
So I'll let the 1960s-70s planners off the hook somewhat, but by the 1990s management should have really started taking steps to increase station capacity.

Dan Franzen said...

Definitely Shady Grove, but Rockville, too. There are plenty of above-ground stations that have exactly one way of getting down to mezzanine level, and if it is blocked...

At SG, if two trains are unloading at the same time (not impossible), there are hundreds of people all going in the same direction - and only one escalator and one set of stairs - right next to each other! - to accomodate them. If there was an emergency on that platform, with so many people in one spot, pushing, it's only a matter of time before someone falls onto the tracks. Why any station would be designed with only one egress is a mystery.

Samantha said...

I also agree that Shady Grove is horrible. I recently moved from Silver Spring and began using the Shady Grove metro station. Silver Spring could get bad, but it is NOTHING compared to Shady Grove. SS at least had multiple escalators.

The first day I got off at Shady Grove, I made the mistake of sitting in the wrong train- it took at least 5 minutes to even get to the stairs. Now I plan where I am going to sit. As soon as the train leaves Rockville, people start lining up at the train doors to get out and the second the doors open, grown adults RUN to the stairs. Unless you are right next to the stairs when the train stops, running is pretty much the only option unless you want to wait to get to the stairs. Horrible.

Joshua Davis said...

1: In a terrorist attack or accident power might be cut to the station, thus making the escalators into an expensive stair case.

2. Federal Center SW has three escalators, I suggest you count them on your way back home.

Let's get Metro Fixed said...

reread post. the math is correct.

Anonymous said...

Metro center has to be the worst, however there are mornings where it is a nightmare at McPherson. Basically metro is a mess everywhere. I am just waiting for the day that a fight breaks out amidst the crowded train because people are dumb enough to try to squeeze on when there is obviously no room.

Anonymous said...

Columbia Heights can get a bit crowded at times. With the growth/gentrification & DCUSA building, it can be a bit of a bottle neck getting out of the station at times!

oldmanclem said...

I'm surprised nobody's mentioned Archives: One exit, two escalators, and one has been out of service for over a year now. So, one "stairway" from the track level to the mezzanine. Horrendous. Especially with all the tourist traffic (it is the "other" Mall stop, after all).

Kara said...

Huntington's south exit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I always stay at the front of the train when arriving and run to the escalators so nobody is in front of me on them. As anyone who uses that exit knows, there are 3 long escalators and 2 are half-wides (which they tout as a 'feature'). Which means there is a good chance (especially if an escalator is closed) that the only one going up has people in a single file .... and it only takes one person to stop walking for the entire line to slow down to escalator speeds. Even more of a nightmare if it is stopped and being used as stairs.

The north exit is not an option ... you would have to walk a long distance around the area to get back to the south one. So forget it if you are trying to catch a bus there.

Anonymous said...

This bottleneck also exists at the Medical Center station on the Red Line. The escalator has been "undergoing repairs" the entire summer. Now we're into Fall. There's one elevator hidden away at the extreme far end of the platform. Upstairs you have NIH and the Naval Hospital and multiple bus depots. It's true it would be hard to evacuate the platform with one elevator and one escalator. Thanks UNSUCK METRO- YOU DO A GREAT PUBLIC SERVICE !

Anonymous said...

Medical Center gets backed up a lot, especially with the aforementioned one escalator, and the fact that mornings, pretty much everyone on the train who hasn't gotten off by DuPont Circle is going to Medical Center. And what's with that one escalator anyway? Perhaps the work would get done faster if SOMEONE WERE ACTUALLY WORKING ON IT. It was only last week that I saw a couple of guys standing around staring at it(but not actually working on it), let alone doing any repairs.

John said...

Foggy Bottom. Single entrance, escalators frequently out of service... designers greaty underestimated the number of passengers that enter/exit there. Pity that an east exit couldn't have been built as part of the new construction on I/22nd.

Anonymous said...

The worst has to be the escalator from the Yellow/Green line to the Red line in the direction of Glenmont @Chinatown/Gallery Pl. One of the escalators is out of service, thus most mornings you have two train fulls of passengers attempting to walk up an escalator while other people are walking down.

One might think they would allow the escalator to be used at a 'down only' or 'up only' stair. Talk about cluster F8ck!

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