The Insanity of Escalators

shortest escalator photo

One of the world's shortest escalators

Jeffrey Hill writes in Next American City about escalators. "You know, it's just stupid," says mechanical engineer Matt Dermond. "If you have a place like a mall, you could install an elevator for the elderly and the disabled and tell everyone else to take a walk. It's not the kind of machine that you can make practical. Because it's not."

There is definitely a place for escalators; many subway systems couldn't work well without them. But like the ones shown in our survey, many are superfluous and silly energy hogs- "The national energy use of escalators is estimated at 2.6 billion kilowatt hours per year, equivalent to powering 375,000 houses; its cost is roughly $260 million."

copenhagen escalators photo

Copenhagen escalators

And unlike other forms of transportation, people are almost irrelevant; they run almost all the time. They are also very complex, high maintenance devices, each tread a little cart running on rails, always exposed to dirt and road salt and crunched childrens' toes that gum up the works.

"The passengers make little impact on how much energy these escalators use," says [physics student Eric] Leitner, crunching the numbers. "It's all running the machinery, and cooling it, too. Unless thousands of people are riding these things at once, the big, bulky aluminum steps aren't necessary."

spiral escalator photo

Crazy expensive Hitachi spiral escalators run six floors in San Francisco Flickr mbjones

Hill writes that the Energy Efficiency Act calls for the installation of intermittent escalators in the Capitol Building, to set an example for the rest of the nation. Dermond observes, however, that unless the escalators remain dormant for long periods of time, starting up over and over again would waste more energy. "And if you did have a system that doesn't get used that often, what is the point of having it in the first place?" ::Next American City
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