RIP: The notorious escalators

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By Don McHoull

After years of abuse and chronic breakdowns, four of Ryerson’s notoriously crappy escalators were put out of their misery last week, and hauled away on the back of a flatbed truck to be used for spare parts.

The four escalators on the upper floors of Jorgenson Hall will remain in place, but students looking to get the first few floors had better get used to climbing stairs.

The escalators were infamous for never working, but some people say they got a bum rap.

“It’s about time we break down the myth escalators break down all the time, especially at Ryerson,” said director of campus planning and facilities Ian Hamilton in an interview a few years ago. Hamilton blamed pranksters for regularly pushing the emergency stop button and bringing the escalators to a grinding halt.

“Mechanical failures have also occurred, but they were mainly caused by the behavior of a person riding the escalator,” he said.

Escalator users were certainly not kind to the mechanical stairways over the years, subjecting them to regular abuse. Four years ago, some anonymous jerk crippled one of the elevators by ripping off its rubber handrail.

Other factors may have contributed to the escalators’ downfall. President Claude Lajeunesse speculated that the escalators had been built too close to the building’s entrance, leading students to track large amounts of dirt, slush and salt into them.

Whatever the cause, the escalators had clearly been in serious distress for the past few years. To frustrated students, it seemed as though they were shut down more often than they were running.

Like an out-of-control dog biting a child, the escalators finally doomed themselves by grabbing someone’s shoe and not letting go.

A subsequent examination by an inspector found a number of loose steps, and the escalators were shut down for good.

At 30 years old, the escalators are getting up there in years, but one escalator expert says that’s no reason why they couldn’t keep running for decades to come. “Escalators are really dependent on usage and maintenance when it comes to lifespan,” said Richard Atkinson, the executive director of the National Association of Elevator Safety Authorities.

“You can’t say that an escalator will last for 10 years or 20 years. In London there are escalators that have been running since the turn of the last century.”

Still, Atkinson recommended that Ryerson buy an all new set of escalators.

“If you have 30-year-old escalators you’re missing out on a lot of new safety features,” he said. “One lawsuit would pay for three escalators.”

After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years to fix and maintain the escalators, the university seems to be cutting its losses rather than buying new escalators, which would cost about $100,000 each.

Atkinson said that replacing the escalators with stairs would make the building less accessible for people with disabilities, as well as causing a general inconvenience. Still, he did see some upside to all the extra stair climbing that will be required.

“It would be a shame to revert back to stairs, though I guess people will be healthier,” he said.

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