The dangerous world of… escalators?

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

gray escalators
Keep your shoes tied!

Since escalators were patented in 1892, their design has remained pretty much the same: one set of moving stairs goes up, and another goes down. Though there is only a small gap where the escalators and stationary floor meet, it has a pretty dangerous history. Thank goodness a team from the City University London have designed their new machine – the Levytator – to be much safer.

I still remember the first time I was attacked by an escalator. At the time, I was innocently polishing my shoes on the brushes along the edges and sometime during my descent, the bristles untied my shoelace! Just as I stepped off, my foot was pulled backwards. Looking down, I saw the electronic stairs slurping my shoelace like it was a string of spaghetti. I managed to wriggle out of the shoe just in time to save my foot, but sadly, others haven’t been so fortunate.

The worst accident in modern history was in 1987 when a pile of of grease, dust, and hair caught in the escalator engine caused it to explode. Since then, there have been many safety features tacked on, but they don’t save everyone. Just in the past few years, a poor child lost the big toe on her tiny foot! Also, people in Washington D.C. have lost fingers and toes, and even broken arms and legs. Please don’t make me talk about the number of people that have lost their lives on the machines.

Even though there are more accident-free riders than not, it makes me wonder why escalator designs haven’t changed much. Well, according to David Chan, the director of the Centre for Information Leadership at City University London, it’s because there is “no incentive for escalator manufacturers to do anything different.” He decided it was high time to change that!

A few years ago, Chan teamed up with mechanical engineer Jack Levy  to introduce a safer alternative to escalators. They call the design the Levytator. Instead of having one case of escalators for each direction, the Levytator connects both directions in a single loop. The contraption is supposed to be safer than than traditional escalators because it flattens out at the tops and bottoms into a long platform for people to walk off naturally. According to the designers, the Levytator is much easier to repair than traditional escalators.

The latest update from the college reveals that Chan and Levy have gotten patents in the United Kingdom, the US, and China, and are searching for a way to get the Levytator on the market. Until then, I’ll continue to make sure my laces are tied up tight before I get on any escalator.

Featured image courtesy of Andrew E. Larson on Flickr. Image of gray escalators courtesy of Stig Nygaard Metro on Wikimedia. Video courtesy of Levytator.