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October 9th, 2007


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10:10 am - The MBTA Follies continue
Hot on the heels of the MBTA's incredibly piss-poor response to passengers on stranded Red Line trains, who eventually took matters into their own hands and staged their own evacuation, comes a story from WBZ-TV regarding an alert viewer who noticed that some Emergency Exit gates in the Central Square station were visibly locked and chained shut. Rather than contact the T about it, which at this point would have accomplished nothing but a blank stare and no response at all, the wise viewer decided to contact the media about it. So out goes WBZ to investigate and boy howdy they go yup, them gates is locked.

The MBTA's crazy cuckoo clock goes BING BONG BING BONG and out trots Joe Pesaturo, the T's mouthpiece whose job I do not envy and would not wish on my absolute worst enemy, to babble these gems of wisdom:
According to Pesaturo, the exits are remnants from the day of T turnstiles, before the new Charlie Card gates. The new style of gate stays open in an emergency, eliminating the need for the specific Emergency Exits. "We installed ... gates at a lot of our exits that used to be just exits only, so now they're entrance exits," explains MBTA Spokesperson Joe Pesaturo. "In an emergency, the alarm is activated and (the gate) will slide open automatically, allowing people to exit the station freely."

Acknowledging the confusion and concern over having locks on gates marked 'Emergency Exit', Pesaturo told WBZ's Dawn Hasbrouck the gates would now be relabeled. "There's a sign on it that says emergency exit that doesn't look right, so the first thing we're going to do is remove that sign," said Pesaturo.
So lemme get this straight.

1. The MBTA is relying on the Charlie Card gates, which have a 75% chance of working properly during regular conditions, to recognize when some "alarm" is activated and slide open automatically.

2. The MBTA presumes the Charlie Card gates recognize this mythical "HEY AN EMERGENCY IS GOING ON" alarm, whatever the hell that is (just connected to the fire alarm? what?) even during a loss of electricity. I know power outages are so incredibly rare that they never happen during an emergency. I seem to recall an incident earlier this year where the Charlie gates refused to open during a power outage at a station, which concerns me greatly if, indeed, it did happen (and I'm trying hard to find the story on UHUB) it's a serious problem if the T really does mean what it said in the second half of that quote, which...

3. The second half of that quote is so mind-bogglingly inept that I'm grinding my teeth to a fine powder just thinking about it. It's almost a Simpsons joke. "Hey! What's up with these gates with Emergency Exit signs being chained and locked?" "Oh! Ha ha! Silly us! We made a boo-boo. We'll remove those Emergency Exit signs immediately."

I'm no Safety Expert (and neither is anybody at the T, apparently) but I do know that emergency exits not only need to provide quick egress, but they need to WORK. Gates that you open from the outside with crash bars have been proven to WORK. Charlie Card gates have not been proven to WORK, or even WORK RELIABLY. I fear that the gates were never tested properly, or tested enough, or tested with anybody with safety in mind, and for the T to solely rely on them as the means of safely getting people out of a hazardous situation while eschewing mechanical, non-electrical gates that HAVE worked is just horribly, terribly, completely WRONG.

I will mention, as others have already done in the comments below, that the gates are designed with a failsafe and are supposed to automatically open (i.e. the electricity keeps 'em closed) in the event of loss of power. But I just don't trust 'em. I can't trust 'em. Not when the systems were built as they were, with gates that don't function in the winter and payment systems that break down every month when people attempt to purchase their monthly passes.

There's one way for the MBTA to ease my mind and, I suspect, a lot of other regular commuters, and that's to provide proof that the gates will work "as designed" to open themselves up in an emergency, or even just in the event of a loss of power. Where are the testing results? Where is any of this? Far away from us, since the MBTA enjoys its monolithic status and policies of keeping commuters in the dark. Now I'm worried that nothing short of another Cocoanut Grove disaster (which wasn't transit-related, of course, but did involve emergency exits or the lack thereof) will get the MBTA to rethink its safety procedures.

Man! What is going wrong with my beloved city?!

(33 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:phonemonkey
Date:October 9th, 2007 02:30 pm (UTC)
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Acknowledging the confusion and concern over having locks on gates marked 'Emergency Exit', Pesaturo told WBZ's Dawn Hasbrouck the gates would now be relabeled. "There's a sign on it that says emergency exit that doesn't look right, so the first thing we're going to do is remove that sign," said Pesaturo.

I thought that was a joke for a moment, actually.
[User Picture]
From:kalliejenn2
Date:October 9th, 2007 02:31 pm (UTC)
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yar - if there's an emergency, and those gates aren't working, i have no problem with kicking and breaking them on my way out.
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From:derspatchel
Date:October 9th, 2007 02:37 pm (UTC)
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Fortunately the gates are made of a rather easily-kickable glass-type composite, that's true.
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From:ron_newman
Date:October 9th, 2007 02:41 pm (UTC)
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I recall hearing that it takes electric power to keep the Charlie gates closed, so that if they lose power, they open. But what if there is an emergency that doesn't cut power to the gates?
[User Picture]
From:kpht
Date:October 9th, 2007 02:56 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, like a stampede at rush hour away from a kid shooting a gun?
[User Picture]
From:vanguardcdk
Date:October 9th, 2007 03:00 pm (UTC)
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Tis true the gates are supposed to be designed so that they open if there is a loss of power. (I wonder if that's hard-wired..ie they NEED power to stay closed...)

Incidentally the one time I was in a T stop when the fire alarm went off (Harvard Sq. last July) the gates were dutifully open allowing people to wander in and out while wondering if it was a "real" emergency or not.
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From:fancycwabs
Date:October 9th, 2007 03:09 pm (UTC)
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If they aren't designed with a fail-open condition, then they're improperly designed. I'd really be surprised if they didn't fail open, however, as the company that manufactures them would be liable for all sorts of moneys in a death-causing emergency unless they could produce a letter from the MBTA saying "We don't care what happens in an emergency, we want those gates LOCKED!"
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From:derspatchel
Date:October 9th, 2007 04:29 pm (UTC)
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There's a failsafe involved where the gates are supposed to automatically open in the case of a power cut, but I don't trust those Charlie gates any further than I can hurl them.

Similar failsafes are found on roller coaster fin brakes -- the electricity holds them open; no electricity makes them close.
From:archangelsk
Date:October 9th, 2007 03:17 pm (UTC)
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"We installed ... gates at a lot of our exits that used to be just exits only, so now they're entrance exits" — fine, but where are the exit exits? Maybe you should call and ask. (Before MBTA hires Scott McClellan to replace Pesaturo.)
From:cynicalgal
Date:October 9th, 2007 06:12 pm (UTC)
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And what's an "entrance exit" anyway? Did George Orwell, or maybe Dr. Seuss, become speechwriter for the T recently?

There's really nothing about the whole statement from Pesaturo that makes any sense whatsoever, and the whole incident only reinforces the fact that the T can't be trusted without pressure from the media or other third parties.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:ron_newman
Date:October 9th, 2007 04:34 pm (UTC)
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Each station entrance or exit has at least one wide gate, for wheelchair use. (Though such exits should NOT be marked with wheelchair symbols when they lead only to stairways, as is true at Kendall and Central and possibly other stations.)
[User Picture]
From:kpht
Date:October 9th, 2007 03:38 pm (UTC)
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"We're very happy that the customer brought it to our attention via Channel 4. I mean, we ask people to, you know, see something, say something -- and that's what they did in this case. Now, we'll make sure that we rectify the situation."

That is the biggest bunch of bull I have ever heard.
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From:derspatchel
Date:October 9th, 2007 04:30 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, he was really struggling on that one.
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From:some_stars
Date:October 9th, 2007 04:16 pm (UTC)
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Holy shit, he said WHAT? That's--the blatant disregard for actual human life is actually stunning me. They're going to REMOVE THE EXIT SIGNS? That is the most ridiculously robber-baron thing I've heard in months AND I FOLLOW POLITICS.
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From:ikkarus01
Date:October 9th, 2007 05:01 pm (UTC)
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My favorite part about this is the apparent need for it to be one or the other, but not both.

"Well, see here folks. We've got this newly-mcfangled Charlie Card gate that knows stuff and does stuff automagically with nary a need for a 'how-do-you-do' from the non-panicking crowd in an authorized emergencified situamagation. Right?"
"But why are the doors locked?"
"The what?"
"The doors. Why lock them? Can't we have both?"
"Oh. Well. Ha. Ok. Did I tell you about the smartness of these here super smart Charlie gates yet? Boy howdy are they the smarts."
From:kayleetvs
Date:October 9th, 2007 07:45 pm (UTC)
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Not to be a pain because I totally agree with you, but at the stations I use frequently enough to be able to picture them in my mind) (the Somerville/Cambridge end of the Red Line, mostly) the gates only come up to about waist high and are none too sturdy. There was even an article in the paper about people kicking them down and being charged with vandalism. If the Charlie Card gates won't open automatically in an emergency there is always another way.

This is, of course, not something the MBTA wants to register with its riders, but if they won't provide any exit in an emergency I'm jumping the turnstile (they can't say a damn thing if I'm on my way out) or, if there's no other choice, breaking the thing down.
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From:derspatchel
Date:October 10th, 2007 03:09 pm (UTC)
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Yes, that is one of the gates' saving graces; you can kick 'em down if needed. In a panic situation, though, I hope the first people to reach the gates can do that with enough force and I hope the gates are wide enough to accommodate a rush; bottlenecks is bad.

I just can't figure out why they wouldn't keep the existing emergency exits along with the Charlie Gates, or at least retrofit those gates to open from the inside out. It just don't make sense.
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From:brak55
Date:October 9th, 2007 08:06 pm (UTC)
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I worked for four years as the project planner for the Toronto Transit Commissions new subway control software and, I have to tell you, they are truly a well oiled machine compared to the jokers you have down there.

I remember that our software was programmed so that, during an emergency, every possible gate opened and all fans pushing air into the system reversed and started blowing air out to try and control any fumes or smoke.
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:October 10th, 2007 03:30 pm (UTC)
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Oh, I've heard glowing tales of the Toronto subway, and how it is a glowing gem for subway enthusiasts who go there just to oooh and aaaah over it.

That and the crazy tiny Montreal subway, too.
[User Picture]
From:pecosy
Date:October 10th, 2007 06:03 am (UTC)
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You need to be writing op-ed pieces for respected local publications dammit! (assuming there are some such in your town.)

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