Greater Greater Washington

How Chicago provides warmth to waiting transit riders

It's been a cold winter in DC this year. Transit riders, stuck waiting for buses and trains, are particularly susceptible to extreme cold. Chicago, where these sorts of temperatures are more regular, has a nice way of keeping their riders warm.


A heat lamp at a Chicago station. Photo by the author.

Most of the outdoor CTA stations have these heat lamps placed strategically in L stations. In many cases, these are placed inside the plexiglass shelters on the platform.

To save energy, these don't run all the time. Riders can turn them on by pressing a button. They turn off after a minute or so, but riders who are still waiting can push the button again.


"Push for heat." Photo by the author.

Given the warmer winters we experience here, it may not be worth installing these on WMATA, but they would certainly be nice to have on days like today.

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. He’s a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Planning Department. His views are his own and do not represent the opinion of his employer. 

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When I used to ride the 5 bus from the White Flint station, there was one of these in the bus shelter. But of course it didn't actually work.

by alurin on Jan 23, 2014 2:31 pm • linkreport

The St Louis light rail system has these too. Amazing how WMATA can't seem to get these simple changes implemented but an underfunded (and frankly underused) STL can.

by Navid Roshan-Afshar on Jan 23, 2014 2:34 pm • linkreport

Today, my wife was frozen when she got to work because her delayed Yellow Line train stopped at every station with the doors open, including the above-ground stations. So, while heaters would be great, maybe just listening to their mother and closing the door would be a good start.

by Thad on Jan 23, 2014 2:48 pm • linkreport

How would this be a simple change, Navid?

by selxic on Jan 23, 2014 3:08 pm • linkreport

The St Louis light rail system has these too. Amazing how WMATA can't seem to get these simple changes implemented but an underfunded (and frankly underused) STL can.

Not sure WMATA is at all interested in space heaters. Their stated goal is to maximize safety(at the expense of customer experience). Space heaters in the wet of the elements being used by their customer base unsupervised doesnt sound perfectly safe.

Besides, they cannot even keep their escalators working...

by Richard on Jan 23, 2014 3:11 pm • linkreport

@Selxic, at a minimum putting in the heat lamps with signals would be a good start (without the plexiglass as that is likely over kill in this region). It could easily be installed in most above ground stations here. They make 110 and 220 versions of radiant heaters for plug in applications (Top Golf in Alexandria even has these). From there its simply setting a mechanical or digital timing switch so as not to keep running it.

Don't really see how this would run more than 10-15k for each station max.

by Navid Roshan-Afshar on Jan 23, 2014 3:14 pm • linkreport

@Richard, well if defeatism is WMATAs no M.O. then yea I guess it simply is a pipe dream *eye roll*.

This isn't rocket science people. If a bunch of teenagers at top golf can keep the things operating then I'd assume WMATA can too. They come with hoods and some are made specifically for outdoor applications (most people don't install hung radiant heaters indoors with the exception of workshops and garages perhaps).

by Navid Roshan-Afshar on Jan 23, 2014 3:16 pm • linkreport

I think just having shelters goes a long way. When the wind is howling and snow is blowing like on Tuesday it makes a big difference. I am surprised how many people I see out that are wholy underdressed for the weather like wearing hoodies in 8 degree sub zero wind chill. Not sure if they are trying to be tough, just don't own winter clothes, or are completely unaware of the weather forecast? Given that WMATA can't keep escaltors running I'm not sure I want to task them with more machinery to maintain.

by BTA on Jan 23, 2014 3:20 pm • linkreport

BTW escalators whose parts are custom made by a company that no longer is in operation are a bit more complicated than a heating filament or infrared heating rod with a metal hood and 110V power dontcha think? A bit of a stretch to equate one to the other considering an escalator has hundreds of components as well as structural elements.

by Navid Roshan-Afshar on Jan 23, 2014 3:20 pm • linkreport

Ive seen these in New Jersey as well.

What WMATA needs is subway cars with demand activated doors, so they only open above ground when needed by a passenger.

by JJJJ on Jan 23, 2014 3:35 pm • linkreport

Amazing how WMATA can't seem to get these simple changes implemented but an underfunded (and frankly underused) STL can.

Because it is hardly ever cold enough in DC to warrant these things!

Average December/January temps in St Louis are 4 degrees colder than DC. Chicago is about 10 degrees colder than DC on average.

by MLD on Jan 23, 2014 4:22 pm • linkreport

@MLD Again, not proposing some of the structural changes, but clearly it is cold enough to warrant heat lamps considering hundreds of restaurants and bars in the area have them and considering it is an extremely cheap and easy thing to install.

Little changes can go a long way. A tiny micro change like that could make a big difference at above ground stations and transit hubs and be a negligible cost.

by Navid Roshan-Afshar on Jan 23, 2014 4:26 pm • linkreport

Don't really see how this would run more than 10-15k for each station max.

It really depends on how many they are trying to install in each station. Even at 10k with 40 soon to be 45 above ground stations you are talking about a half million dollars and then there is the cost of running and maintaining them. 2 4000 watt heaters at every station would add nearly 100k to WMATA annual electricity costs as people are going to use them even when a train is coming in 1 minute or if it is still fairly warm out.

I am not sure whether that delivers enough value. I wait for trains at a suburban metro station every day and then transfer at an exposed station, so every day I am waiting in the cost 3 times and it has never really bothered me. I dont believe adding a huge heater would actually do very much anyway. 4000 watts can heat a small home with insulation, but in the open air it isnt going to do much.

by Richard on Jan 23, 2014 4:43 pm • linkreport

I agree, WMATA has better uses for its money.

by Crickey7 on Jan 23, 2014 4:59 pm • linkreport

@Richard, it did alot at the STL stations in keeping me warm. 100k is a negligible amount compared to how much WMATA wastes on many lesser things; especially as these would likely be very popular.

450k every 5 years (life cycle for the product) is still fairly negligible in my mind.

What if they made it a smart card enabled thing? 10 cents for 3 minutes kind of thing? Any takers on that? (although that would add some cost to put the card reader of course so probably end of the day you would only recover that capital cost)

I dont know. Even Paris has these at some stations and that is a heck of a lot more temperate a climate than DC most of the year.

by Navid Roshan on Jan 23, 2014 5:26 pm • linkreport

@Richard, it did alot at the STL stations in keeping me warm. 100k is a negligible amount compared to how much WMATA wastes on many lesser things; especially as these would likely be very popular.
450k every 5 years (life cycle for the product) is still fairly negligible in my mind.

What if they made it a smart card enabled thing? 10 cents for 3 minutes kind of thing? Any takers on that? (although that would add some cost to put the card reader of course so probably end of the day you would only recover that capital cost)

I dont know. Even Paris has these at some stations and that is a heck of a lot more temperate a climate than DC most of the year.

It would probably have to be more than $.10 to be break even but who knows you might be able to convince a third party operator to take the deal if the things got more use.

As to DC not having them. NYC doesn't have them, Philly doesn't have them, Boston doesn't have them, and Baltimore doesn't have them all colder places than DC.

by Richard on Jan 23, 2014 6:08 pm • linkreport

The last 3 are far smaller systems, and NYC is majority underground (though I think they'd be smart if they put them on their elevated lines).

NYC also has similar climate to STL, so if the argument is that they are colder and don't have them, then STL is the same as NYC and does.

by Navid Roshan on Jan 23, 2014 7:04 pm • linkreport

Something else for Metro to not maintain properly.
There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.

by spookiness on Jan 23, 2014 7:24 pm • linkreport

That's really nice!

by asffa on Jan 23, 2014 7:53 pm • linkreport

Forget the heaters how about canopies at the stations that cover the entire platform, and tracks within the station so that the platforms don't get directly covered with snow/rain and the only openings are where the trains enter. Singapore, Dubai, London & Paris all have stations that are ground level or elevated that are partially enclosed which limits the amount of rain, wind, snow that enters the station keep the temperature most constant why not have that type of station here.

Some stations such as Grosvenor, White Flint, Suiltand & Southern Ave could be completely covered/decked over in glass or steel to fix the heat issue since they are partly underground already.

by kk on Jan 23, 2014 9:08 pm • linkreport

Montreal avoided this issue entirely (as well as snow removal) by placing its subway entirely underground. Obviously this is not an option unless tens of billions of dollars suddenly fall out of heaven and we can build my fantasy lines straight out Georgia Avenue, Rhode Island Avenue, H Street/Benning Road and Washington Street in Alexandria.

by Frank IBC on Jan 24, 2014 8:26 am • linkreport

Enclosing the stations in glass would create the opposite problem in the summer - now you have created an oven in which to bake passengers.

The system is built for DC's climate which means not usually this cold in winter. The stations are open so that in the summer, air can move through them...

by MLD on Jan 24, 2014 8:39 am • linkreport

@ MLD

If the stations are open so so air can move through them don't the parts that are direct under the Sun defeat the purpose.

Just extending the canopy from end to end instead of enclosing in glass could bring the temp down a few degrees plus provide block alot of wind, snow, branches from going into the station. Maybe glass was a bad out but just enclosing them. White Flint & Southern Ave both could have been underground stations and probably would not have costed much more.

Franconia Springfield, Ft Totten & Southern Ave get hot as hell during the summer having the canopy extended along the platform would do wonders for those stations since nothing is blocking the sun in all directions.

by kk on Jan 24, 2014 9:38 am • linkreport

Worse is that WMATA has huge areas devoid of any shade in the heat of the summer: The Silver Spring bus area had NO shade. NONE. Nada. Nichevo.

I got a headache nearly every day waiting out in the sun for the bus in the summer afternoon sun.

It's hot here more than it is bitterly cold.

by Capt. Hilts on Jan 24, 2014 11:41 am • linkreport

I'll also note that at the Arlington Cemetery station - the only platform bench is in the FULL SUN.

A lot of the folks going to Arlington are very old or very young - more susceptible to the heat and the platform benches are all in the full sun.

by Capt. Hilts on Jan 24, 2014 11:44 am • linkreport

Any L rider in Chicago will acknowledge that while the thought is nice, huddling under that little overhead heat lamp really doesn't provide anything but the tiniest bit of warmth. Maybe in a milder climate like DC this would be more reasonable. What's nice is something that blows warm air ... a heat grate or a blow dryer. The primary benefit of these little overhead heat lights is you know where to huddle among other passengers to use them as a wind break. :)

-danny

by Daniel Howard on Jan 29, 2014 6:09 pm • linkreport

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