Traditionally, underground station designers have relied on escalators to move people vertically through stations. This underestimation of lifts’ potential creates passenger flow pinch points when stations are busy, which can be stressful and even traumatic. In addition, escalators are responsible for around 50% of slips, trips and falls in stations (according to the UK’s Office of Rail Regulation), so my team and I are keen to reduce their usage.
When WSP was asked to redesign ten underground stations in a Middle Eastern country, the WSP team applied SD principles to double and even quadruple the number of lifts for the busiest stations, while maintaining a suitable number of escalators. This approach synthesised lessons from modern airport design where lifts provide the majority of vertical circulation. This research-based intervention improved inclusivity through step-free access, without increasing the stations’ cost or size.
We also developed solutions to the ten stations from observations and literature used in new office building designs. For example, direct access toilets with self-contained cubicles and handwashing facilities created more privacy for customers while reducing the required space for the facilities by 25%.
My team and I regularly use 3D tools, such as Agent-Based Modelling (ABM), to gauge stations’ accessibility and inclusivity within virtual, rendered landscapes. For example, when asked to review the architectural design of a flagship metro station in the Middle East, we used ABM to create detailed ‘heat maps’ that demonstrated potential conflicts and pinch points between lift and escalator users.
Using this information, we revised the station design by doubling lift space capacity, which increased the number of passengers using the lifts from 10% to 25%. We also grouped escalators together to improve pedestrian flow and reduce the likelihood of accidents.