I’ve always been something of a transit buff. One of my earliest collecting targets was SEPTA timetables—bus, subway, and trolley, if you please. I live in a city with a good, if, at present, troubled, transit system, and there are cities I want to visit for no other reason than to ride their subway systems. Heck, I would buy a poster-sized version of the Singapore subway system map if I could find one—it’s a brilliant synthesis of information and design.
One city I want to visit primarily for the subway system is Moscow, with its glorious stations and sweeping transit lines. Said trip is not in the cards at present, so I was pleased to visit vicariously via a recent Washington Post article on the escalators of Moscow’s subway system by Will Englund (“In Moscow, escalators to carry the city,” December 14, 2010):
There are 643 of them in the Moscow Metro. This is a system, like Washington’s, with deep, deep stations, but, unlike in Washington, passengers here are rarely left to hoof it on their own up or down immobilized stairways. It wouldn’t work, because people don’t walk fast enough. At rush hours fully loaded trains run on 90-second intervals; it’s up to the escalators to get the passengers delivered, but just as important, to whisk them away again before they start bunching up and spilling off the platforms and onto the tracks.
The contrast between the subways in these two national capitals could hardly be more striking, as Washington’s Metro has grown notorious for escalator failures. I’ve walked the significant length of a stationary Tenleytown station escalator more than once, in both directions, and that was fifteen years ago. I do empathize with the difficulties facing my local system, though. Tight budgets and an overall infrastructure requiring constant maintenance due to its age (now almost thirty-five years old in the original Red Line corridor) stretch the escalator crews to their limits. Covering the exposed street-to-station escalators was a fine first step.
Washington has a great transit system, and as a resident and a transit fan, I can only hope that they figure out how to fund infrastructure repairs to get more robust escalators in place while simultaneously funding subway expansion. I can’t ride the trains if I can’t reach them.