Escalators are a dumb invention

I wanted to shift gears for a minute or two to talk about how much I despise escalators.


Escalators, in my opinion, are one of the worst influences on humankind. They systematically institutionalize and legitimize laziness on a massive scale. My distaste for escalators exists on several levels, which I will briefly outline in this post.

My first concern is that people are lazy and fat. Many doctors have raised alarm about childhood obesity, about heart disease and diabetes, and about the health effects of inactivity; many thousands of column inches have been devoted to health risks associated with obesity, to decreasing time spent exercising, to foods that are unhealthy, to diet tips, to exercise regimens, and so on. All of this rhetoric is pure posturing as long as we continue to legitimate laziness by installing escalators, automatic doors and moving sidewalks. Local governments are touting human-powered transportation as a saving grace in the face of the environmental crisis; Vancouver, for example, wants to see bicycles count for 10 percent of all trips taken by its citizens by 2010. But how can they honestly expect that to happen when they legitimate laziness by installing escalators, automatic doors and moving sidewalks? The Guidelines and Protocols Advisory Committee under the Medicare Protection Act states that “obesity and physical inactivity has been increasing in all ages and is a major contributor to chronic diseases, including diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease (CVD) and kidney disease”; they recommend that all doctors discuss with their patients the importance of healthy eating and regular physical activity:

Learning new behaviour around eating and exercise is like learning a new language-it takes time (up to 4 years or more), practice, and requires ongoing support and encouragement from a hopeful, empathetic and informed care provider.

Installing escalators does exactly the opposite of what the GPAC recommends; escalators discourage physical activity, undermine physicians’ recommendations, and are championed by people who are hopeless, malicious and uninformed. Escalators should be outlawed under the Medicare Protection Act.

Escalators send people the message that it’s okay to be lazy. That walking up a flight of stairs really is too much to ask. These messages are false. Walking up a flight of stairs is not only necessary to keeping the human body in working order, but it’s the least we can ask of someone who spends the rest of the day motoring around in a Ford F-150 while the heat is on at home. CBC’s One Million Acts of Green makes no mention of taking the stairs, nor does David Suzuki’s Nature Challenge. But how many billions of barrels of oil are wasted by having 30 000 escalators running all the time in the United States alone? Why are we building new dams and new power plants and new oil rigs instead of eliminating the world’s escalators? This is a serious question. An article in Elevator World suggests that the escalators in the United States alone use as much energy as 375000 homes, and the US accounts for less than 10 percent of the escalators worldwide.

The disturbing trend nowadays is to design buildings with no stairs at all! At the downtown campus of SFU, the only way to get to the second level is via the escalator, featured prominently in the middle of the foyer like some kind of grotesque trophy of laziness. There are emergency stairwells, sure, but they’re alarmed, so off limits even to conscientious objectors to the escalator craze. Most buildings that do have stairs available hide them in some dark corner and leave them to accumulate filth and rot, while the escalator, out in the middle of the building, gets routine checkups whenever it needs a new bearing or a drop of oil.

Some of you may be wondering about the elderly and the infirm. They need escalators, don’t they? No! That’s what elevators are for. There are no needs that aren’t met by a flight of stairs and an elevator. Tall buildings? Sure, take the elevator. Going down from the landing into the main area of the department store? Use the stairs, you lazy bastard.

Do yourself, and the world, a favor next time you see an escalator: take the stairs instead. Lobby your city planners to outlaw escalators. Write David Suzuki and George Stroumboulopoulos and the Sierra Club and Greenpeace and tell them all to do the same. If you ever catch yourself riding the escalator again, look at yourself in the mirror with disgust and revulsion: you are too lazy to walk up a flight of stairs. What are you going to do when you’re sixty? Eighty? How good is your body going to feel then? People who ride escalators should be ashamed and embarassed by their own behaviour.


10 responses to “Escalators are a dumb invention

  1. I applaud your attention to this issue. What really amuses me is those silly idiots at Skytrain stations, who all cram onto escalators and fight their way to the top while I walk alone on the stairs which are placed directly beside the escalators. I still can’t fathom why I’m the only one using the stairs. Not to mention I usually get to the top before they do. The power wasted by escalators is astounding, I see little reason for their existence, and I certainly see no reason whatsoever for them to be left running all the time.

  2. In the ingenious words of Jerry Seinfeld: “an escalator is not a ride.”

  3. An exception should be made, however, for places like the London Underground, where a station can be a few storeys below street level. It’s also worth noting that on the left side of escalators in the London Underground, people are walking, even as the stairs do some of the climbing for them.
    In a city like London, where people generally walk and take public transport everywhere, they hardly qualify as “lazy bastard[s]”.

  4. Steven Van Overbeke

    To Frank you are right in some regard that the London Underground is one of the exceptions where keeping escalators is a good idea even though I have a fear of them. I know it is a stupid fear, but can’t help it. That and heights are the only things I am afraid of, but anyway I still think that having more elevators for the Underground however, would help if only to help the elderly and everyone else to have an alternate way to get down if they are like me. However, the one thing that I don’t understand about escalators is the fact that they were invented at all since quite frankly about 375 people a year die on them , but what are you going to do. I glad that a lot of countries have decided to switch to elevators. It just seems safer to me when I think about it.

  5. I’ve written a paper on why people knee-jerk over to the escalator as a metaphor of why we’re drawn to all forms of technology that we think will make life easier and it consequences. It can be found at the above website. The paper grounds itself in George Kingsley Zipf’s “Human Behavior and The Principle of Least Effort.”

  6. Escalators are not a “dumb” invention, they are an alternate way for folks to get to a place that is higher up without taking the stairs. Many areas have stairs side by side for folks who want to use them. Just because someone uses the escalator does not mean they are lazy are don’t walk or take the steps, if one is willing to walk 10 steps 5 times and take an escalator , its different, the blogger also ignores that folks who fetch groceries, even a bike, or even folks who are buying large items may use an escalator, you’re talk about elevators is ignorant about certain parts of the country, in new york city for example elevators in the subway system are usually broken, small, cramped, and take a long time to load (which is why people use the stairs), escalators are only used in stations that have high heights and usually where distance is key. Sometimes it easier to parallel an escalator then an elevator depending on the architecture.

    A person who uses an escalator or knows an escalator is there may be willing to walk steps initially. It is true that escalators are more dangerous and even folks walk on escalators in places like new york city (exercise isn’t it not unlike a lower setting less difficult setting on a bike stairmaster).

    Escalators have practicability purposes, there are other examples of what you might call “dumb” inventions, how about automatic transmissions, or cars, or computers, or even plumbing rather than hand pumping water or showers instead of using buckets, also check this article out

  7. I have been searching a lot to find someone my opinion. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Amen. I came to the same conclusion recently.

  9. Escalators are not a bad idea, i can get a lot faster if i run on them, people who are in the way are a bad idea.

  10. I completely agree. Escalators don’t even serve the physically disabled. That’s what elevators are for. Not to mention that they are incredibly dangerous.

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