The Broken Metro Escalator has become a sort of totem in D.C.—a target for the region’s collective rage at the entire transit system, a symbol of dysfunction, and easy fodder for the unimaginative columnist. For University of Maryland Ph.D. student Lee Mendelowitz, broken escalators are also an opportunity for some recreational number crunching.
Mendelowitz, who is writing a thesis on genome assembly, has been gathering and publicizing data on the state of Metro’s escalators since March on his website, DC Metro Metrics, and Twitter feed, @MetroEscalators. (He also provides info on broken elevators and hot cars.) “Escalators in the D.C. Metrorail system are notorious for not working well,” he says. “I realized it would be possible to create this data set and actually track the escalator performance.”
Mendelowitz wrote software, developed a database system, and wrote code for the two to interact to process every aspect of an escalator’s performance, using publicly available data: how many times each escalator broke, the length of each break, an escalator’s overall availability, how often each is inspected, and so on.
Though he’s devoting a fair amount of free time to the project, Mendelowitz is no Metro ragebot. “I personally don’t run into too many problems with my trip,” he says. “I’m rarely inconvenienced.” Though he does suggest his data could help hold WMATA accountable, his work is more academic than advocacy—“mostly just for information.”
So which Metro escalators performed the worst this year? Mendelowitz shared his findings, which cover every escalator in the system from June 1 to Dec. 1.
HIGHEST NUMBER OF UNEXPECTED OUTAGES FOR A SINGLE ESCALATOR Farragut North: 108 Potomac Avenue: 97 and 93 Metro Center: 96, 87, and 69 Columbia Heights: 80 College Park: 76 Mt. Vernon Square: 76 Foggy Bottom: 75 Stadium-Armory: 75 Brookland-CUA: 69 New York Avenue: 68
NO UNEXPECTED OUTAGES Ballston-MU’s escalator to the Vienna platform Crystal City’s escalator to the Huntington platform
LEAST AVAILABLE ESCALATORS Dupont Circle, Q Street to mezzanine escalator, available 1 percent of the time Pentagon, three escalators at the south end of the bus bay, 26 percent L’Enfant Plaza, mezzanine to orange/blue platform escalator, 36 percent Stadium Armory, D.C. General Hospital entrance escalator, 44 percent Stadium Armory, Stadium entrance escalator, 44 percent McPherson Square, Vermont Avenue entrance to New Carrollton platform escalator, 49 percent Pentagon City, mezzanine to Mt. Vernon platform escalator, 50 percent Farragut North, L Street entrance escalator, 50 percent L’Enfant Plaza, 7th Street entrance to Branch Avenue platform escalator, 51 percent McPherson Square, Vermont Avenue entrance to Vienna platform escalator, 52 percent
MOST AVAILABLE Clarendon’s escalator to the New Carrollton platform, 99.92 percent
Photo by Darrow Montgomery