A somewhat surreal morning commute on the SkyTrain

If the last week’s worth of posts haven’t tipped you off, the coronavirus is officially a big thing. This morning Prime Minster Trudeau announced fairly drastic restrictions on air travel and literally asked Canadians who are abroad to “come home.” He also urged everyone who can stay at home to do.

I write this while on my lunch break at work. :P

The commute on the Expo Line of late has been less than ideal. With trains getting ever-more crowded I often find I can’t get a seat when I board at Sapperton (there are 15 more stations after Sapperton before I get out). It varies, but I usually get a seat anywhere from one to six stops later.

But not this morning! Instead I was able to get a seat entirely to myself. Luxury! Many other people also had seats to themselves. This not only never happens during the morning rush hour, it never happens on the morning rush hour ever. I mean, I have never seen it happen since I started riding the SkyTrain in 1986.

I finally got someone sitting beside me at Commercial-Broadway. Why I am not sure, as there was an empty seat across from me. This person began rooting around in her purse, digging through the many layers before finally finding what she was looking for: a surgical mask, which she then put on.

I would have facepalmed, but we’re not supposed to touch our faces now.

She switched seats at Main Street and I rode solo again for the rest of the trip.

The Canada Line was different with its itty-bitty under-capacity two-car trains, but even there I had a seat to myself for about half the trip.

I made it clear this morning that getting everyone working from home should be a top priority, as public transit is an excellent vector for spreading COVID-19 far and wide. I neither want to unwittingly spread it, nor catch it from someone who is similarly unaware they have it.

Also, some toilet paper would be nice. (Trudeau also told people to only buy what they need. He was very polite but the subtext was clear: Don’t be a greedy, hoarding a-hole.)

As they say, interesting times.

My next post will be a funny cat.

SkyTrain vs. dump truck

Last night I had a dream and instead of being about world peace, it was about riding on one of those scary old original SkyTrain cars.

In this instance, I was on an olden train and it was entering a terminus station that was similar to but not quite Waterfront station, as it was clearly inside a tunnel. As it began to brake I noticed a pickup truck up ahead and it was crossing the track, as if it was a conventional at-grade rail crossing. I was somewhat concerned, but the truck got across in time and seemed to wait on the other side, possibly because it was in a tunnel and had nowhere to go.

But once the pickup cleared out, I saw another more ominous obstacle: a giant dump truck that was sitting on the track, with the back end presented to us in a somewhat rude manner.

As mentioned, the train was braking, so a high-speed collision was not in the cards, but it seemed some sort of collision was and sure enough, the train bumped into the dump truck, pushing it away because behold the power of a Mark I SkyTrain car. After this it seemed the train had too much momentum and was going to crash into whatever was at the end of the tunnel, so a switch was activated to divert the train left and into some kind of auxiliary tunnel, except it seemed quite short and narrow and sloped down about 45 degrees. So the train sort of crashed, anyway. Everyone was fine, though, so we got out and after that I’m not sure what happened. Maybe we all went and yelled at the dump truck driver.

Anyway, my concerns over riding the increasingly aged Mark I trains is clearly starting to manifest in my subconscious, so hooray for that.

Darwin Award candidate rides bike on SkyTrain

Today I was waiting for the Expo Line train to arrive at Lougheed Station. As I waited, a Millennium Line train pulled in. These are stubby li’l two-car trains because Translink simply doesn’t have enough cars to outfit the Millennium Line properly. They are working to fix this over the next year. The people smooshed into these cars during rush hour will be grateful.

These two-car trains are (works out math) twice as short as the usual four-car ones, so they stop in the center of the platform. Because Lougheed has an epic-length platform, you have to cover a surprising distance after ascending the stairs or escalator to get to these shorter train.

A man seeking to ride on the wee Millennium Line train approached from my right, dangerously skirting the yellow line along the platform’s edge. He doubled the danger by bringing a bike. And when I say bringing, I mean riding. Yes, he was riding a bike on the platform. He did not have the surest grip, so there was some wobbling. I expected him to just go straight into the track area, set off the track intrusion system and then possibly electrocute himself on the power rail as he tried to get out.

Instead he made it to the train, but as he zoomed up to the open doors, he got into a brief conversation with someone onboard. Shortly after, the doors closed and the train left. I assume this person was telling him there was no room, or perhaps that he felt morally obligated to refuse entry because what kind of a dope rides a bike on a SkyTrain platform, anyway? The final part of this pantomime occurred when the guy pedaled farther down the platform. I didn’t see what transpired after that due to the crowds, but I’m kind of hoping he rode straight toward a SkyTrain official standing there with their arms folded and a, “Oh no you di’int!” look on their face.

Anyway, people are weird.

Bad Design: SkyTrain stairs and elevators

There are various issues with the location and design of stairs and escalators across the entire SkyTrain system and I have posted about issues specific to the Canada Line, but for this I am going to focus on the station closest to where I live, as it is a good example of bad design.

First, let me note that the Millennium Line, opened in 2000, is overall an improvement to the Expo Line and its stations. The Millennium Line stations are spacious, completely covered for inclement weather (important for an area that gets a lot of rain), feature glass-enclosed elevators for better security, and each station has its own unique look, getting away from the cooke-cutter design of the Expo Line.

One area in which they went cheap was escalators. A lot of stations follow the one staircase/one escalator rule, where there is an up escalator to get people up to the platform, and a staircase to get them down. As cost-cutting measures go, it’s not the worst, but they are moving away from it now, because crowded stations and stairs are inefficient for getting people in and out quickly (see Lougheed Town Centre station, which added a down escalator at the north end, around the same time its third platform opened for the Evergreen extension).

At Sapperton station, both sides feature the one staircase/one escalator design. The problem here is that designers did not anticipate how people act. A lot of people will—quite logically, you could argue—take the path of least resistance. In this case, when someone exits a train, they will veer toward the closest route that will get them off the platform and out. At Sapperton this is the staircase, as it is closer to the platform than the up escalator. The up escalator requires the person to cross over the platform.

Now, you could argue the logic of this design is that having the staircase closer to the platform is more important, because it makes it easier for people to board a train. And that’s true. However, by putting the staircase closer, you inevitably increase the number of people using it and ignoring the escalator, which is farther away.

The end result is you get people both going up and down the stairs. This impedes people trying to get to the train, the very thing the designers were presumably trying to avoid. It also creates cross-traffic on the platform itself, as people exiting a train and using the up escalator must cross in front of the stairs.

During busy times, it’s a bit of a mess.

Now, if the stairs and escalator were reversed, you’d encourage people to take the escalator to leave the platform, plus you’d keep them from getting directly in the path of people coming down to board. People coming down would have to move slightly farther to get to the staircase at the top, but this would almost always be more efficient than putting them into the direct path of people leaving the platform.

Unfortunately, this design will never get fixed in existing stations and really, it’s too expensive to be worth the improvement in traffic flow, as nice as it would be. More happily, as mentioned earlier, it appears Translink is largely scrapping the use of stairs. An example is the remodelled Metrotown station, which previously had a single staircase and escalator at its east end. It was a huge bottleneck. The remodel opened up the west end of the platform and now there are four escalators (two up, two down) at both ends, vastly improving the efficiency in getting people in and out of this often crowded station.

So this is a case of bad design, but bad design recognized. Thumbs up, I say.