Greater Greater Washington

Reconfigure L'Enfant escalators for an easier transfer

The southern mezzanine at L'Enfant Plaza is only used for transferring passengers. But its current configuration is inefficient. Metro could easily solve this problem by reversing two escalators.


Photo by author.

L'Enfant Plaza is one of the busiest stations in the system. It's the only Metro stop with 4 rail lines. Many passengers transfer each day between the Blue, Orange, Green, and Yellow Lines.

The station is plus-shaped. On the upper level, the Green and Yellow Lines run in a north-south direction. The platforms are on either side of the tracks. The lower level holds the Blue and Orange Lines. They share a center platform between the tracks, which run east-west.

Exits are located at the east, west, and northern ends of the station. The eastern and western exits are located on the same level as the Green and Yellow Lines. The northern exit is above the Green and Yellow tracks.


A map at L'Enfant Plaza. North is to the right.
Photo by the author.

At the extreme south end of the station there is another mezzanine. But it does not have an exit. It's main purpose is to enable people to transfer between northbound Green or Yellow trains to southbound trains on the opposite line. It also enables patrons headed for the exit on the opposite side of the Green/Yellow tracks to cross them without transiting the lower level Blue/Orange platform.

But it is currently set up inefficiently.


Typical mezzanine arrangement. Graphic by author.
On mezzanines for underground side-platform stations, the escalators furthest from the faregates typically run up (away from the platform) while escalators closest to the faregates go down (toward the platform). If there are three pairs of escalators or if the configuration of the mezzanine is different, this setup can vary.

But the main reason for this design is so that riders entering the station can go directly down to the platform, while riders exiting trains encounter the up escalator first (unless they exit from one of the cars under the mezzanine). Because of this design, Metro typically arranges its side platform stations so that patrons enter and exit on whichever side of the station manager's kiosk their platform is.

This contrasts with center platform stations, where passengers usually enter and exit to the right of the kiosk (from their point of view). Although this also can vary.

Note: elevator placement varies widely because they were added to the design of the earlier stations after construction was underway.

But this is not an issue with L'Enfant's southern mezzanine. Since there's no exit, patrons don't need to be channeled to the faregates. The current setup, on the other hand, forces riders transferring between platforms to crisscross the mezzanine and cross paths with patrons moving in the opposite direction. It's an illogical, confusing setup which adds an obstacle to changing trains.


L'Enfant southern mezzanine. Graphic by author.

It would be far simpler to pair the up escalator with a down escalator in the same position on the opposite platform. This would shorten the distance patrons have to walk through the mezzanine.

Of course, on average, a person making two trips each day would walk the same distancea shorter trip at one end of the day and a longer trip at the other end.

But it would make the mezzanine easier to navigate and give it a more logical layout.

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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Can't be done, it makes too much sense. This is one of those aha moments when somebody says, why didn't they think of this sooner?

Great idea.

by Mike Donnelly on Aug 31, 2010 10:28 am • linkreport

Does anyone use L'Enfant to transfer from southbound green to northbound yellow? Probably no one, since earlier stations like Archives would offer an across-the-platform transfer, if I remember correctly

Seems like the only transfers that occur on that mezzanine are from northbound trains to southbound trains. Almost everyone would take the teal path.

This is a good change and costs nothing. Thanks, Matt. Hope they do it.

by Michael Perkins on Aug 31, 2010 10:29 am • linkreport

Within the past couple of weeks, Metro has altered the escalators on the south mezzanine at L'Enfant in an even less sensical way. Using the "Proposed" graphic above, switch the up route and the down route: those passengers exiting northbound Yellow or Green Line trains must walk to the southernmost end of the platform to access the mezzanine via escalator and cross over to the west end of the station. It has added just enough extra hassle that many morning commuters who work on the west end of L'Enfant now join the Blue and Orange crush on the lower platform to cross sides. WMATA would be very well-advised to take GGW up on its escalator suggestion.

by Sean on Aug 31, 2010 10:33 am • linkreport

@Michael Perkins

I don't see a need to transfer from Southbound Green to Northbound Yellow at all. They follow the same tracks. Your southbound trip would go past all of the potential destinations for your northbound trip. Sure, the cross platform transfers would be easier, but that's just not a transfer that happens.

The only circumstance I can think of would be if someone missed their stop and wanted to go back.

by Alex B. on Aug 31, 2010 10:36 am • linkreport

I think the proposal would actually shorten both trips a person has to make, since instead of following the longer teal path twice a day, you'd be following the shorter teal path twice a day.

by Michael Perkins on Aug 31, 2010 10:36 am • linkreport

Yeah, I make this transfer twice a day, and the current layout is rather nonsensical. Sometimes I just transfer at Archives to avoid the whole thing, if the wait is long enough.

by Dan on Aug 31, 2010 10:37 am • linkreport

This combines brilliant insight with a focus on total Metro minutiae. Not sure whether to be impressed or frightened. Or both. Good work.

by ah on Aug 31, 2010 10:43 am • linkreport

passengers transferring between yellow and green where a change of direction is involved (e.g., traveling between National Airport and the Navy Yard) are better off staying on for one stop doing so via the island platform at the Archives station.  but for those who are inclined to follow the map and the train operator's announcements, Matt's proposal makes sense (though not, one hopes, so much as to prevent it from being implemented).

interesting idea, let's hope it goes somewhere.

a more general question about the L'Enfant Plaza station - was there ever a plan for an exit of any kind from the south leg of the cross?  is there anything on that end to or from which anybody would want to go?  (come to think of it one wonders the same about the south leg at Gallery Place).

by intermodal commuter on Aug 31, 2010 10:45 am • linkreport

One slight problem. You need the escalators to work. I think 90% of the time the escalators on this end are either stopped, or being worked on. Right now the northbound, most northern one is stopped, for about 2 weeks now.

by RJ on Aug 31, 2010 10:48 am • linkreport

@intermodal commuter:
As far as I know, there were never any plans for an exit from the L'Enfant south mezzanine. There are not any knockout panels, but the mezzanine does touch the station wall. So theoretically, it could be punched through.

An exit from the southern mezzanine would come up in front of the HUD Building on 7th Street. But it would be very close to the exit from the eastern end of the station (DOT Building courtyard).

by Matt Johnson on Aug 31, 2010 10:48 am • linkreport

This is a great idea, but I was hoping it would be a solution to L'Enfant's crazy cattle shoot system with relation to the elevators. That is a serious mess.

by David C on Aug 31, 2010 10:52 am • linkreport

I used to live near the Waterfront/SEU station and used these escalators a lot to transfer to the Yellow, I actually think the current set-up is the simplest, and most consistent with escalator positions throughout the system. It's simple to know that you have to walk up (south) to the descending escalators in the "X" like pattern, and any time savings would be negligible at best. I think this is a case where we're looking for a problem, that doesn't really exist, in my opinion...

by S.A.M. on Aug 31, 2010 10:54 am • linkreport

Metro do something logical, efficient and that otherwise makes sense?

This getting accomplished would be a sign of the coming apocalypse.

by Redline SOS on Aug 31, 2010 11:15 am • linkreport

Speaking of missing exits, the Archives/Navy Memorial could benefit greatly from an exit at the south entrance, which would be about 7th/Constitution, and provide much more convenient access for the many tourists looking for the Mall (and prevent their questions of "which direction to the Mall?" at the Navy Memorial).

by ah on Aug 31, 2010 11:15 am • linkreport

I say, if it ain't broke don't fix it. Leave the configuration as it is, so the it remains consistent with the configuration of the rest of the twin platform mezzanines.

A side note: The only elevators in the system that were added to the station design after the stations were under construction are the stations between Rhode Island Avenue and Farragut North. The rest of the stations had the elevator placement integrated into their original design. The placement varies widely for two reasons, geometry of the depth and the latitude given to the architectural contractor that was contracted to do the final station design.The best examples architectural contractor latitude is Farragut West and Mcpherson Square. Farragut West mezzanines to platform elevators are in the side of the arch vault, the Mcpherson Square mezzanines to platform elevators are beyond the east end of the platform.

L'Enfant Plaza used the same mezzanines to platform elevator configuration that was uses in Mcpherson Square station because of where the north mezzanine is located in relationship to the railroad bridge that cross 7th Street above.

by Sand Box John on Aug 31, 2010 11:19 am • linkreport

Rosslyn has a similar problem. The northern northern faregates (the ones to the right if you're coming up the escalators) do not match with the escalators.

The in and out going passenger streams have to cross because incoming gates are to the left, while the down escalators are to the right.

In fact, the in and out going passengers cross twice. Once outside the station and once in the station, because outside the station, because people generally walk to the right (as preprogrammed by our roads).

This could be fixed by switching the in and out going faregates.

by Jasper on Aug 31, 2010 11:19 am • linkreport

@Jasper; not sure what you mean. Rosslyn also has two entrances and exits - don't forget the escalator to the skywalk. Some of us live there, after all.

by charlie on Aug 31, 2010 11:34 am • linkreport

@charlie: depending on how you define "entrance", there are actually three: the staircase leading out to the "back" of the station onto Fort Meyer Dr... probably one of the more widely used entrances, since so many people live to the west of the station.

by JS on Aug 31, 2010 11:43 am • linkreport

Metro could also makes this more efficient by replacing all four escalators with stairs.

by aaa on Aug 31, 2010 11:47 am • linkreport

@ charlie: not sure what you mean

I'm sorry. North is north. To the right coming up the escalator is to the right. I don't know how to make it more clear.

The faregates closest to the 5A and new Circulator? The faregates where, until two weeks ago, there was this news paper lady that went GOOD MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORNING loudly, continuously, repetitively, incessantly and annoyingly?

by Jasper on Aug 31, 2010 12:20 pm • linkreport

@Jasper; ok, I think I understand.

You're not talking about making the south side entrance only and the north side exit; you are talking about the mix of entrance/exit machines on both sides which causes people to turn around?

I'll admit I avoid rail travel during rush hour now, so perhaps I haven't seen the flows that cause problems.

by charlie on Aug 31, 2010 12:49 pm • linkreport

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! I can't tell you how many times I've seen people reverse direction after making the complete loop and realizing that the escalator they want goes in the opposite direction.

It's interesting to hear about the intended design of platform escalators. One of them at Ballston is misconfigured: there are two escalators heading down to serve passengers coming in from the station entrance placed further away from the faregates, while the one closest to the faregates is headed up.

It makes more sense to have more escalators heading away from the trains beacuse while a train unloads a bunch of people at once, people trickle in from the station entrance. This philosophy needs to be applied more across the system, and at faregates, which sometimes too heavily favor incoming traffic.

by Anonymous on Aug 31, 2010 12:52 pm • linkreport

@ charlie: You're not talking about making the south side entrance only and the north side exit; you are talking about the mix of entrance/exit machines on both sides which causes people to turn around?

Correct. On the south side, they're properly aligned. On the north side, they're not. Just flip the in and our going gates, and the problem is fixed.

BTW: Things like this make me believe that the leadership of metro is non-existent. If they've never even thought about the most efficient way to herd the crowd through a station, then they can't have thought about much.

by Jasper on Aug 31, 2010 12:57 pm • linkreport

I had a station manager get angry with me when I pointed out that the SmarTrip Express Lanes at Pentagon City were all pointing the same direction (in toward the station), causing a long line to bunch up at the few outgoing faregates. He ended up changing them after I left.

I get the impression Metro employees don't like being told how to do their jobs, whether it's from customer requests or directives from management.

by Anonymous on Aug 31, 2010 1:06 pm • linkreport

I was in Chicago over the last week and I made a point to ride the CTA "L" and bus lines. as far as the escalator question (this is a very limited review) generally I found escalators only available for leaving a train/station on the way up (for the underground stations) and was relegated to using stairs a whole lot more than I'm used to (not a bad thing)

I generally find that Metro is near capacity much of the time and that escalators are vital for moving the numbers we deal with at any given station, however I'd be interested in some studies at cost savings for converting escalators to stairs, not running escalators as much (letting them sit idle as stairs) and other combinations to find a nice happy medium... I imagine our elevator maintenance bill would go up even more if we had more stairs... Are Washingtonians generally lazy when it comes to stairs?

by S.A.M. on Aug 31, 2010 1:15 pm • linkreport

@ S.A.M.: Although I always remind people that escalators can not break, they can only become stairs, there is an issue here. Escalators have higher steps than regular stairs. That makes them uncomfortable to a lot of people.

by Jasper on Aug 31, 2010 1:24 pm • linkreport

Brilliant idea. Next will you please post about the non-sensical escalator arrangement at Union Station? The escalators that go up to the outside on the north exit are inexplicably reversed which causes loads of congestion people are force to cross over each other. Occasionally they'll run the escalators in what I would consider the "proper" direction and it's far, far better.

by Aaron Zinck on Aug 31, 2010 1:37 pm • linkreport

I totally support this. I have to do the purple route in the diagram once a day (anyone that works in or around L'Enfant Plaza and lives north on the Yellow/Green would, going down to the orange/blue line level to come back up is a longer distance).

@Sand Box John, There is a difference between incorporating the elevator from the start of planning and incorporating it into an already mostly completed station design. Although physical construction on most of the original stations may not have begun, the design and layout would have had to fit around the design work that was already completed. I think WMATA even went to court to try and get out of the ADA requirement.

by AdamG on Aug 31, 2010 1:57 pm • linkreport

For those suggesting to just go up to Archives to transfer between Yellow and Green, you could do that...but doing so may cause you to miss the next train and then have to wait for the following train. Last time I rode (last week), I lucked out and had a southbound Green pull in right as I was getting off the northbound Yellow.

by Froggie on Aug 31, 2010 2:04 pm • linkreport

@Jasper, the other problem with inactive escalators is that they get slippery when wet - more so than stairs and, according to a WaPo article a few years ago, walking on them actually damages them (they aren't made to handle that kind of repeated pounding. Which I admit sounds utterly stupid if true).

Are Washingtonians that lazy? At New Carrolton there is an escalator and stairs to exit the station to the west. If the escalator is broken, enough people will walk over to the elevator (which is a few steps out of the way) to create a line. It's great when you have your bike and can't legally use the stairs.

by David C on Aug 31, 2010 2:11 pm • linkreport

Nice incremental suggestion but what does it really need? Bike ramps! How could would be to ride down into a station?

by Ward 1 Guy on Aug 31, 2010 3:04 pm • linkreport

I was just complaining about this to my partner the last time we went to a Nationals game and had to transfer at L'Enfant. At least now I understand why the escalators are configured that way. It would be very helpful if Metro would install up/down arrow signs over the escalators at busy transfer stations showing which direction each escalator is currently moving in. That would help eliminate the frustration of walking to the wrong escalator, which I tend to do about half the time at L'Enfant. It shouldn't be too hard to wire such signs so they would automatically display the correct direction depending on which way the escalator motors are running.

by jimble on Aug 31, 2010 4:45 pm • linkreport

@ David C: Are Washingtonians that lazy?

Not really. At Franconia-Springfield there is a stairs next to an escalator. When a train empties out, just as many people walk up the stairs as take the escalator.

Or are they? The elevator is at the other side of the platform and lines do form there. Apparently, (some)people are willing to wait for an elevator, and unwilling to walk to an escalator of elevator.

by Jasper on Aug 31, 2010 4:47 pm • linkreport

I've made similar suggestions on escalator configuration to WMATA. In one case, they reversed the direction of escalators at West Falls in the morning. The change didn't stick, though, as it is back to the way it was.

by SCS on Aug 31, 2010 4:56 pm • linkreport

Can someone explain Union Stations escalators (Columbus Circle entrance) why are they the opposite of all other stations why not have all operating the same way.

Another example of horrible escalators would have to be New York ave. Where someone decided to place all escalators in the middle so no matter which side you come in you still getting on or off the escalators near the middle when they should have been right after you cross the gates.

Instead of going through the gates and getting on the escalators you have to walk about 1/4 the distance of the station and then turn around to get on the escalators (M Street entrance) depending on how the escalators are configured that day.

by kk on Aug 31, 2010 5:37 pm • linkreport

This is so pellucidly obvious that Metro should be embarrassed that you even need to point it out to them.

Next, how about taking on the stupid escalator arrangements at Gallery Place? You know, the ones where when you come UP from the Green/Yellow platform you have to cross over the line of people headed DOWN before you can continue UP to the exits? Seems to me that the up escalators should be next to each other and the down escalators should be next to each other ...

Thank you!

by Elaine on Aug 31, 2010 7:38 pm • linkreport

@ Elaine

Which escalators are you talking about on the yellow/green platform.

If your are talking about the ones on the north side there is one problem. People are coming from two different directions from H street and from the Red Line you would still have to cross a crowd of people anyway you change it.

If your talking about the south side than it make work out but, will piss people off because you will have to backtrack when you get down to the bottom level when it could just stay the same and just work your way through the crowd.

Most of the problems are because of the way that the escalators were designed in the stations; there all facing directions when they all should be the same.

The best thing that they could do is have escalators similar to those in the Macy's downtown so that you would not cross the paths of people going up/down or for stairs a spiral or stairs that are like normal stairs then stop in the middle of the way up and change direction back to which they came but going up.

by kk on Aug 31, 2010 9:55 pm • linkreport

@ Matt:
You are correct, there never were and plans to put in a surface entrance that would utilize the south transfer mezzanine.

@ah
You might be interested in knowing, Archives has provision built in to it to allow the construction of a second mezzanine with surface entrances at Constitution Avenue.

Behind that knockout is a ruffed in passageway and at least one knockout possibly two for surfaces entrances on the south side of Constitution Avenue.

You might want to organize a lobbing effort to get a funding grant to make a Mall entrance reality for the Archives station.

There are several other station in the system that have provision built into then to allow the construction of a second entrance mezzanine. There are also several mezzanine that have provisions for second surface entrances.

by Sand Box John on Aug 31, 2010 10:45 pm • linkreport

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