Why Are Down Escalators in Arenas Turned Off Before the Game Ends?

You could certainly post an armed safety inspector at each escalator to maintain the flow of passengers at a safe level.

When attending professional sporting events, whether at an arena or a stadium, I’ve noticed the down escalators are turned off before the end of the game—right when exiting spectators could use them most. Why? —Lee

Funny you should mention sporting events, Lee—I was just wrapping up my pitch for a human-on-primate wrestling extravaganza combining elements of American Gladiators and Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? to create a reality game show called Can You Lick a Macaque? But I suppose that while I’m waiting for that check from Spike TV,* I might as well fill you in on the latest developments in escalator technology.

First is the discovery that escalators aren’t as safe as we once thought, especially when they’re turned off. There’s an old joke about how a broken escalator is just stairs, but it turns out that due to escalators’ larger steps, lack of landings and general failure to comply with building codes for stationary stairs, they are no longer considered a safe substitute for conventional staircases. You’ve been warned. Speaking of operator error, remember “Stand right, walk left”? It turns out that the instruction to leave one side of the escalator open for folks who want to climb as they ride is also bogus: As The New York Times reported in 2017, loading each tread with two standees (no climbers allowed) would reduce escalator congestion by 30%. Getting folks to actually do this, of course, is about as likely as getting them to use a highway zipper merge correctly, but we can dream.

But let’s get back to your question (I’d hate for you to get the idea that I was stalling): Why turn off those arena escalators just when we need them most? It’s because the escalator owners have a responsibility to “manage congestion” (probably because most grisly escalator accidents seem to involve crowded descending escalators whose brakes fail due to overloading).

This congestion is likely to be at its worst when an event ends and everyone leaves at once. Now, at this point you could certainly post an armed safety inspector at each escalator to maintain the flow of passengers at a safe level. However, most operators find it easier and cheaper to just shut them all down and let the rubes—who, after all, have already been separated from their cash—figure it out on their own.

*Yeah, I know Spike shut down. You’re saying you were buying it up till then?

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