Last week, I rode the wooden escalators at Macy's from the 1st to 9th floor and down again. It's a ride I enjoy, and one I haven't taken in several years. I was sad to see that many of the wooden steps have been replaced with metal steps since I last rode them, though the sides remain wood.
Many people love the wooden escalators at Macy's including Forgotten NY, who did a story on them a few years ago.
A few days after my ride, a child lost a finger in those escalators, and he is not the first to do so.
This upsetting accident has inspired an outcry against the vintage escalators. Commenters at places like the Post are saying, "Macy should get with the program, and install new escalators that avoid potential disaster. Them old Wooden escalator have been hazardous for years."
And "Macy's should retire those old escalators and put new ones. I know that they want to keep the charm of the old place, but when a child's finger is severed and other accidents have occurred because of them, it's time to take the escalators out. Take them to a museum or something."
But are the wooden escalators really more dangerous than metal ones?
You can see in the shot above that the grooves where the wooden treads meet the comb-plate are quite a bit wider than they are in the metal treads, shown below. So it's possible that the wooden stairs are more hazardous to small fingers, which may also get caught in the gaps between steps and sidewalls.
However, the child was not riding on Macy's wood-stepped escalator.
The Post reports that the child was riding on the third floor with his mother when the accident happened. Other sources say it was the first floor. Either way, that means he wasn't on a wooden escalator--he was on a wooden-sided escalator with metal steps, because at Macy's the only all-wood escalators run up and down between the 8th and 9th floors.
This escalator below is one of two, a mated pair (one goes up, the other goes down), and it is the last in Macy's wood-stepped escalator line. Riding those wooden steps is special. They make a clickety-clack sound, like the Cyclone at Coney slowly climbing to its peak. They are good stairs, dating back to the 1920s.
No one wants kids to lose fingers, but let's not convict these escalators without a fair trial. Are they statistically more dangerous than other escalators? Consumer Watch reports that approximately 1,200 "entrapment" accidents happen on escalators every year, and 6,000 annual riders end up at the emergency room. Most of them, it is safe to assume, don't get hurt on Macy's wooden escalators.
If Macy's is compelled to replace the escalators, as the boy's mother wants to see happen, it seems they could simply retrofit all of them with new metal steps with narrower gaps to protect fingers, and that they could leave the wooden sides at least--though I, personally, would miss the wooden steps.
Whichever way it goes, these artifacts of the city are an endangered species. If you want to experience the clickety-clack, go now, before you're riding Macy's last wooden escalator in a museum.