Skip to content

Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

How to encourage stairs instead of escalators

Read more articles by


I’m one of those annoying people who you find walking up the stairs of a subway station bumping into the great flow of people pouring downstairs. Its not that I want to be annoying — I just prefer to take stairs so I can get a tiny bit of exercise that I rarely get. So it was with great joy to see how a team of artists tried to attract more people to take the stairs instead of an escalator at a Stockholm subway station.



  1. You can still get exercise walking up an escalator.

  2. This is one of those videos that I absolutely loved, until I got to the end and was crushed to learn it was actually a viral ad (for a car company!).

  3. Great video and idea, but if you tried it here, the TTC would probably call it a safety hazard. “Proceed carefully if using stairs or escalators. Always hold the handrail securely.” Thanks TTC.

  4. @Gmania: I don’t know about stairs, but the escalator ‘safety blitz’ (ie the removal of the Stand Right / Walk Left signs &c.) seems less driven by the TTC and more by the TSSA quango.

  5. This video has been floating around for some time now. It’s always met with enthusiasm.

    I really don’t understand what Jonathan and Brian are taking issue with. Are you suggesting that this would be a good idea if ‘Fun Theory’ weren’t an initiative of VW? But since it’s an initiative by a large corporation it’s a bad idea? I mean, the ‘piano stairs’ and other videos on Fun Theory’s site aren’t encouraging you to buy a car, they’re just supporting these ideas and sticking their logo on it. Does Nuit Blanche “crush” you (Jonathan) and are its participants not “artists” (Brian) because Scotiabank sponsors it?

  6. I appreciate that you think you’re doing yourself a service by walking up the stairs against the flow of people, but the reality is that you’re just being a jerk.

    Walk up the left side of the escalator. Walk all the way to the end of the platform (opposite to where you need to be when detraining).

    There are lots of *other* ways you can sneak in extra exercise without inconveniencing other people who only have one option down.

  7. This is a weird one: its not exactly ad creep since there is almost nothing to indicate in the piano/stairs that its an ad for a car company. In my post, I left out that it was VW-sponsored just so that people would watch it and react to it naturally without my prompting.

    I’ll say this: I love it. I like it more when these type of things are done independently, but I’m not close-minded enough to not like it specifically becuz its funded by VW. Becuz VW’s money is behind it doesn’t make it less creative or provoking.

  8. I’m really surprised at the knee jerk denunciation of this project just because it happens to have a VW logo stuck on at the end of it. From what I could see there was absolutely no branding of the installation and it serves a purpose that most people here (especially you Jonathan) support – the re-imagination of public spaces. The reality is that corporations are an integral part of our society and we should be applauding them when they act as responsible citizens and support projects like these.

  9. If I was in charge of the TTC I would rip out virtually every escalator in the system and replace them with stairs and elevators. Escalators only serve some subsets of limited mobility people and in TTC service break all too frequently (not helped in winter by the amount of salt etc from peoples shoes).

    Stairs are better from the point of view of encouraging fitness in the ridership and also don’t need a key to be turned by lazy staff to ensure that it is operating in the right direction at peak time.

  10. Mark: How do you know it’s the lazy ones that turn the key?

  11. I’m with you in theory, Mark, but just wait a few years… there will be a much greater volume of limited mobility people — hello boomers! — than could conceivably be handled by twice as many elevators as the TTC could possibly install. I’m not an expert, but I presume there are vastly more people for whom an escalator is sufficient than people for whom an escalator is insufficient.

    Earlier this year I was forced to use a cane for about a month. I used escalators the whole time, even when a little too unstable and painful to do so safely, because even those stations that have elevators were overrun with apparently fully able-bodied people who would literally run to the elevator and jam inside rather than being bothered to use an escalator. Without escalators, we’d need the TTC to hire elevator bouncers to screen out the lazies.

  12. @Matthew: You called them artists—they are not artists, they are employees of an ad agency. It may be a very good ad, a subtle ad, but it is still an ad.

    But it is now good to know that Spacing feels that ads that are ‘cool’ are good, while others are just ad creep.

  13. I stand by my comment. The piano-stairs themselves are of course cool, but I really wanted to believe it was an initiative by the transit authority or by artists; I remain disappointed by the fact that it was all to sell cars, rather than being something wonderful that was undertaken for its own sake.

  14. Perhaps there’s a way to separate the good idea here from the advertising intent. I propose the TTC should put out a call to Toronto artists/designers to come up ways of enlivening a given number of stair cases in the subways. The TTC could then partner with Toronto Public Health to assist in underwriting the project as a health promotion campaign…

  15. I like Spacing because the posts are very intelligent and interesting, and the comments usually are too. Today (the comments) were a complete waste of my time. Oh well. There’s always next time folks!

  16. It’s interesting that a creative person working for an ad agency is immediately not an ‘artist’ purely by virtue of their employer. I think ads, despite their ultimate purpose, can still be art in themselves.

    I guess my question is: if the sponsor had been a public department or non-profit, but they had still hired this ad agency, would you be as dismissive?

  17. Mr. Dowling, I get the impression from your post that you don’t see any need at all for escalators.
    As one of “those people” with limited ability I am very grateful for their presence whenever I have to go from one floor to another.
    So would you look at me, surprisingly young looking for my age I might add, and assume that I am just being lazy?
    Would you like me to wear some kind of identifying insignia or logo that would allow me to go about my daily business without worrying about being subjected to your scorn?
    Perhaps an armband of sorts?
    Or maybe something sewn onto the front of my coat?

  18. “Escalators only serve some subsets of limited mobility people ” and lets get rid of ramps for wheelchairs and signage for blind or deaf people and spaces reserved for physically challenged subsets too. One day you will be a subset too.

  19. Do you remember Michael Hayden’s spectacular “Arc-en-ciel” at Yorkdale Station? 158 multi-coloured neon tubes lit up the vaulted glass roof above the platform. The lights pulsated in sequence as trains pulled into the station. It was removed in the early 1990s.

  20. Oh jesus @walterpike and @scottd. @scottd maybe it’s because I don’t see eye to eye with you re: Georgetown GO and you’re just looking to be snippy but your assessment of my views couldn’t be more wrong.

    My point re: subsets is that (are you listening @walterpike) is that the TTC level-change assistance as currently constituted only helps people that are generally ambulatory and does not fully help/serve at all people who:

    1. Have strollers
    2. Have walkers or are in wheelchairs
    3. Have baggage and going to the slow bus to the airport (192)
    4. Are partially sighted
    5. Are slow/hindered walkers and don’t enjoy having to walk away quickly lest the escalator deliver other people right onto their heels (see Yonge/Bloor lower level especially)
    6. Have bikes
    7. Have guide dogs

    And that’s just those I thought of in five minutes.

    Large capacity twin elevators should be installed instead (with one elevator running off peak to save energy and permit maintenance, like the rollercoaster at Pearson). Single escalators (which the TTC then claim are “accessible” stations) are all too often out of service and leave those travellers UNABLE to use escalators completely screwed.

  21. @greg smith – interesting point re: bouncers although if the elevators are large enough everyone can fit (as at Pearson). What’s required is for TTC to stop being cheap and buy large enough units and for ACAT to demand that stations without them not be labelled “accessible”.

    @john lorinc – sounds like something the Medical Officer of Health should be getting involved in, since as a City Agency the TTC should be fully in his purview.

  22. Whats could possibly be more fun than an escalator?

  23. there’s a mall here in our area which don’t have any escalators but rather uses only, and only stairs. no wonder they have customers, haha. well this is a good and enjoyable exercise when you’re with friends.