Our Red Line train operator told us twice that the southside exit at Dupont Circle was closed starting today for the escalator replacement. When we got to the platform, signs were plastered every few feet along the concrete rim. A Metro staffer standing by the platform escalator yelled, “This side is closed.” Still, a handful of riders walked up to the staffer and stared at him and at the escalator.
Some finally had to take their earbuds out to understand what was going on, but others were just plain perplexed at the disruption in their routine.
Metro, whenever you think you’ve done enough to get the word out regarding a change in service, do some more. It’s never enough.
But I have to say, what the transit staff was doing this morning looked pretty good. This is what I saw between 8 and 9 a.m.
All the escalators for the northside exit were working. There were plenty of Metro staffers and transit police around to provide information to confused riders or to begin dealing with any emergency, like the stoppage of one of the three big escalators to Q Street.
There’s a command post on the north side mezzanine to monitor conditions on the escalators and platforms. Metro Deputy General Manager Dave Kubicek, one of several transit officials I saw at the station, told me that the police and staff are empowered to take action right away to deal with safety and access problems.
He also said that mechanics are situated to respond immediately if any of the northside escalators malfunction.
Up on top of the Q Street entrance, there’s a mobile transit police box that should remain in place while the south exit is closed. If necessary, police and staff could shut off access to the station.
“Our priority is egress,” Kubicek said. On the south side, the escalators between the platform and mezzanine are still working.
Lynn Bowersox, Metro’s managing director of public relations, said the mezzanine escalators at the south end will continue operating. They may be used by riders who need to change platforms. (Dupont Circle has side platforms, rather than a center platform.) They might also be necessary if trains are sharing one track during maintenance.
I asked Kubicek what I think is the riders’ most frequently asked question: Why is it going to take eight and a half months to replace the three south side escalators?
He said he’d like to get the job done sooner, but it’s too early to tell what the prospects are for that. Metro has been studying this project and it’s timing for more than a year, and staffers have tried to minimize the number of surprises they might encounter as they rip out and replace the three escalators.
Key challenges include the tight space for the workers. The south side was designed for two escalators and now has three, Kubicek said. The old machinery will have to be hauled out and new machinery brought down into that space.
Metro created another challenge for its workers when it decided to maintain one of the three escalators in condition to be used as a staircase in an emergency. (There’s also a separate emergency staircase on the south side.)
On the north side, the escalators were not crowded. There were no lines of riders waiting to use them. Riders used to exiting on the south side sometimes would find themselves disoriented when they reached the Q Street level. Metro staffers were available to provide directions.
One alternative for Red Line riders who would normally use the south exit is to get on and off at the nearby Farragut North station, which is about a seven minute walk from Dupont Circle’s south entrance.
Metro has made some adjustments in anticipation that Farragut North will be more heavily used. Bowersox said that all the station’s entrances will remain open till closing time. (One would normally close at 10 p.m. weeknights and be shut on weekends.)
But the main thing is that Metro has removed the big wooden construction barrier that limited access to the platform on its north side, near the Connecticut Avenue/L Street entrance.
When I passed through Farragut North at about 8 a.m., I saw no crowding on the platform. But we did hear from a rider this morning who said she found the platform extremely crowded during the morning rush.
She said the operator of a Silver Spring-bound train closed the doors very quickly, even before all the riders aboard the train could disembark. They had to ride to Metro Center and come back to Farragut North.
She urged Metro to pay more attention to how much time train operators are allowing for passengers to exit and enter and to whether they are closing the doors while passengers are still exiting.