evolgen

On the Use of Elevators in Research Buildings

Allow me to set the stage. I just emerged from the autoclave room with a cart full of hot, steamy, dirty vials and bottles of Drosophila media in tow (see image below the fold). The glassware had been the home for thousands of flies for a period of over a month. What started out as a mixture of agar, cornmeal, yeast, molasses was churned up and excreted into by tons of larvae. All this nastiness was then heated at high pressure, releasing all kinds of aromas that I have the pleasure of dragging around our building. I’m a real popular guy.

I had to push the cart from the autoclave room to the elevator and from the elevator to our lab. Anyone unfortunate enough to encounter me in the hallways or elevator (or use the autoclave room within a day of me) gets to enjoy my unique scent. They should feel honored. As I walked down the hallway, I noticed a fellow grad student waiting for the elevator to arrive. I politely allowed her to ride alone so as not be trapped in a confined space with my cart o’ stank.

We were on the sixth floor. I needed to ride the elevator because my lab is on the floor below and my cart wouldn’t fare too well on the stairs. The other grad student had nothing with her — no cart, no bag, no nothing — and was presumably planning to ride to the ground floor. She was going to ride the elevator down. Not up, which would be somewhat understandable. Down! And she’s a marathon runner. Seriously. Like competitive and shit. She didn’t need to ride the elevator; she chose too.

Which brings me to the question: in what situations should you ride the elevator in a research building?

i-36a6ce0a6bd9d9aa44cc0adfd4c23ffe-fly_cart.gif
You do not want to ride in an elevator with this bad boy.

My personal opinion is that an elevator should only be used if it is needed. If you can physically walk up the stairs without undue discomfort, don’t ride the elevator. If you’ve got a cart that looks like the one shown above, you get to ride the elevator. If you’re on crutches, in a wheelchair, or are otherwise physically handicapped, you get to ride the elevator. If you’re carrying bins full of field samples to your lab on the fourth floor, you get to ride the elevator.

Our building doesn’t have one of those new fangled speedy elevators you see in the glistening buildings built within the past decade. This sucker’s slow. Not only does it not go between floors with any sense of urgency, it also takes a while to arrive when it’s called. It’s pretty much always faster to walk the stairs than to ride the elevator. That means people who ride the elevator when they could take the stairs are just lazy.

And screwing it up for all of that need to use the elevator to lug carts up and down between floors. Because the lazy people ride the elevator so much, it takes longer than it should to arrive when called. The extra traffic wastes everyone’s time. So I’ve been tempted to post a sign in each of our two elevators — right next to the “IN CASE OF FIRE USE STAIRS” sign — that reads:

IN CASE OF SELF-MOTIVATION USE STAIRS

I’m not entirely happy with the phrasing, but it’s a start. Incidentally, I once saw an IN CASE OF FIRE placard with the following edit:

IN CASE OF FIRE
DO NOT USE ELEVATOR
USE STAIRS WATER

But my fellow grad students (marathon runners or not) are not the worst elevator hogs. Sure, there are a bunch of people who ride the elevator from the ground floor to the sixth floor, which is somewhat understandable — although that hike is not too physically challenging. The worst elevator hogs are the undergrads who ride the elevator from the ground floor to the first floor.

Comments

  1. #1 Craig Pennington
    January 18, 2007

    In her defense, if she is having any knee problems then walking DOWN the stairs will cause pain and inflammation. I always walk up stairs (G2 to 3 on the weekdays ~ 88 steps,) but rarely down for just that reason. Of course nobody in my building has a cart of stank. If they did, I would let them ride without me.

  2. #2 Craig Pennington
    January 18, 2007

    In her defense, if she is having any knee problems then walking DOWN the stairs will cause pain and inflammation. I always walk up stairs (G2 to 3 on the weekdays ~ 88 steps,) but rarely down for just that reason. Of course nobody in my building has a cart of stank. If they did, I would let them ride without me.

  3. #3 Kevin W. Parker
    January 18, 2007

    I work in a building that has two floors, and I see presumably healthy people use the elevator all the time. Many years ago I worked in a university library and took the elevator from the ground floor to the seventh floor I was hindered by a young man with the healthy musculature of a “skill-position” football player who took the elevator from the third floor to the fourth. So far as I’m concerned, if I get to the point where I have to do that on a regular basis, you can just take me out behind the barn and shoot me.

  4. #4 Kevin W. Parker
    January 18, 2007

    I work in a building that has two floors, and I see presumably healthy people use the elevator all the time. Many years ago I worked in a university library and took the elevator from the ground floor to the seventh floor I was hindered by a young man with the healthy musculature of a “skill-position” football player who took the elevator from the third floor to the fourth. So far as I’m concerned, if I get to the point where I have to do that on a regular basis, you can just take me out behind the barn and shoot me.

  5. #5 dlamming
    January 18, 2007

    Or you could have just sucked it up and pushed the cart into the elevator. Back when I actively blogged, I looked into the energy use by elevators vs people. (link 1, link 2). Elevators (and people) vary in efficiency, speed of climb, and of course mass, but as an appoximation, 1 average weight person would have to be able to go up a flight of stairs in less than 5 seconds to beat an elevator in energy expended. To quote myself, “The taller the floors (and the building), the more efficient the elevator will become. That doesn’t take into account that fueling a person (growing food, transporting it, eating it) is less efficient than powering an electric motor.”

    And perfectly healthy looking people can have all sorts of hidden health problems. Who are you to judge?

  6. #6 RPM
    January 18, 2007

    And perfectly healthy looking people can have all sorts of hidden health problems. Who are you to judge?

    I know for a fact that she runs marathons. She ran in the Boston marathon last year. She finishes at the top of her age group in every local distance race. She’s in amazing shape. If my my fat ass never rides the elevator without a cart, she is definitely capable of doing the same.

    The elevator issue isn’t about efficiency. It’s about wasting time. The elevator may go between floors faster than we can walk, but it takes a while to arrive when called. That’s when time is wasted.

    But what pisses me off most are building where the elevators are easy to find, but the stairs are hidden.

  7. #7 csrster
    January 18, 2007

    I thought it was going to be an entry about this paper:
    http://komplexify.com/math/humor_pure/ImperturbabilityOfElevatorOperators.html

    Btw, don’t you think you’re being a bit puritanically self-righteous about this? Ok, you might have to be a lazy lard-arsed bastard to take a lift up/down one floor, but it’s a _lift_, a Happy Vertical People Transporter. If people want to use it for the function for which it was installed then surely that’s their own business.

  8. #8 MiddleO'Nowhere
    January 18, 2007

    You also have to take into account the poor design of some newer buildings. I work in a building that is relatively new (late 80s early 90s), and they went out of their way to make the stairs inconvenient to use. They’ve even gone so far as to hide stairwell entrances from view and not provide signs telling you where they are. I once went down a set of stairs and when I got out on the first floor in the lobby, I realized that in the year I’d been in the building, I’d never seen this set of stairs. I’d walked past it every day. I generally take the elevator up one floor (but not down), because the amount of time wasted to wander to the back corner where the stairs are, go up them, and then wander back to where my lab actually is, takes longer than riding up the one floor (even on the slow elevator).

  9. #9 RPM
    January 18, 2007

    Sure I’m being self righteous. I’m also saying some people deserve to ride the elevator more than others. But I’m also saying that there are people who ride the elevator even though it would be faster for them to take the stairs. I call those people lazy, and they make it harder on the people who NEED the elevator. There is a practical purpose to all this bitching.

  10. #10 Jonathan Badger
    January 18, 2007

    But what pisses me off most are building where the elevators are easy to find, but the stairs are hidden.

    Or even worse, stairs that are designed to be used only in case of fire — you can get in on any floor but all the doors from the stairs are locked except the final door to the outside on the ground floor.

  11. #11 ERV
    January 18, 2007

    Hahaha! Lab coats, gloves, elevators– I love this blog! This is all the same crap that pisses me off too!

    We only have one operational elevator right now, and I work on the 10th floor. I LOOOOVE stopping on every floor on the way up, because its too hard to walk from the second floor to the third floor, the fourth floor to the fifth floor. Ugh.

    And I seriously doubt their are hoards of 22-27 year olds with hidden illnesses on my campus.

  12. #12 Amit
    January 18, 2007

    Does you building have a service elevator? That’s where most of the people I see hauling carts in between floors go.

  13. #13 RPM
    January 18, 2007

    Amit, do you work in the biotech building? I remember that building had a service elevator and a regular elevator, which is a great idea — but no one is there to enforce a “carts/heavy object only” policy on the service elevator. Biotech is also awesome cuz the stairs are right in the middle of the building, and they’re impossible to miss.

    My current building has no service elevator, but it does have two elevators. I can’t imagine how slow it would be if there were only a single elevator. Although I think the biggest benefit of having two elevators is that one still works when the other breaks. It’s like the buffering hypothesis for gene duplication.

  14. #14 Amit
    January 18, 2007

    Yep, I’m in Biotech. I’m right across the MBG office which is one floor up. I usually take the stairs, but I’m recovering from a back injury so I took the elevator a couple times the past few weeks. It was embarrassing to push ‘1’ when everyone else is going up to 3 or 4!

  15. #15 techne
    January 18, 2007

    Let me get this straight. You had the chance to take the elevator, didn’t, and are complaining because someone else did? I don’t get why, if your goal was to get people to prioritize carts, you didn’t get in the elevator with her, in effect conditioning her against/punishing her for such IYO frivolous elevator use. As it is, with your “politeness” (which one could also call “passive-aggression”) there are no consequences whatsoever for her behavior, so why should she change it? Because it’s the right thing to do? When the heck is THAT ever a good motivator for human behavior?

  16. #16 RPM
    January 18, 2007

    Let me get this straight. You had the chance to take the elevator, didn’t, and are complaining because someone else did?

    The example was an anecdote. I was being a nice guy by not getting into the elevator with her. I’m complaining about all people who ride the elevator whether they need to or not.

    I’m not going to be a fucking asshole and condition people by making them ride with my stanky cart. That’s what an asshole would do. I’m just gonna bitch about on my blog. Bitchy maybe, but not passive aggressive.

    Not everyone changes their behavior because of direct consequences on them. Some people do things because it’s the right thing to do — like allowing people who need the elevator to use it rather than using it when you don’t need it. Of course, there is a direct benefit for people to use the stairs in my building: it’s usually faster than the elevator.

  17. #17 MissPrism
    January 18, 2007

    I agree with you in general, but I think you’re being a trifle harsh on this woman. I’d guess that she simply ran particularly far or fast yesterday, has sore leg muscles and didn’t want to do that thing where you take one stair at a time and go sideways while clinging pathetically to the bannister.

  18. #18 ivy privy
    January 18, 2007

    Yep, I’m in Biotech. I’m right across the MBG office which is one floor up.

    That is some weird **** construction going on in the parking lot, isn’t it?

  19. #19 techne
    January 18, 2007

    Let me get this straight. You had the chance to take the elevator, didn’t, and are complaining because someone else did? I don’t get why, if your goal was to get people to prioritize carts, you didn’t get in the elevator with her, in effect conditioning her against/punishing her for such IYO frivolous elevator use. As it is, with your “politeness” (which one could also call “passive-aggression”) there are no consequences whatsoever for her behavior, so why should she change it? Because it’s the right thing to do? When the heck is THAT ever a good motivator for human behavior?

  20. #20 Tinni
    January 18, 2007

    The chemistry building (ST Olin) has a nice note on the elevators that asks people to use the stairs if they are going one flight up or two flights down. That’s a nice compromise for the healthy IMHO.

  21. #21 Chris
    January 18, 2007

    in what situations should you ride the elevator in a research building?

    When you work on the 16th floor of said research building, like I do.

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