Friday, April 08, 2005

When Should You Take the Stairs?

Here’s a cost benefit analysis problem for you – when is it better to take the stairs rather than the elevator? In my life, I have lived on the 10th and 9th floors of a 12 story dormitory (freshman and sophomore year, respectively), worked on the 7th and 8th floors of an 18 story building with 3 basement levels, and I currently live on the 12th floor of an 18 story building. As such, I have often contemplated the virtues of taking the stairs (usually while waiting for an elevator).

The two major considerations when trying to get from one floor to another are time and energy. When you are on the 100th floor of a building, it will certainly take less energy and probably more time to take the stairs instead of the elevator to get to the lobby. However, if you are only going one floor, even if the elevator is right there, you can probably get up (or down) the stairs in the time it takes the elevator doors to close, the elevator to rise up (or sink down), and the elevator doors to open again. And frankly, if you are capable of walking unassisted, you had better take the stairs if you are only going one floor up or down, lest you invoke the wrath of your fellow passengers.

But beyond the extremes, how do you decide whether it’s easier to just take the stairs? Here are the things you need to consider:

- The speed of the elevator. Some elevators are faster than others. The one in the library at Virginia Tech felt like it took about 30 seconds to go up one floor. I’ve been on elevators that can go up 30 floors in about that time. So speed is a major consideration. It not only affects how fast you will get to your floor once the elevator picks you up, but it determines how soon the elevator will let you on.
- The number of elevators. If there is only one elevator, it is probably better to just take the stairs. Two elevators seems to be about the minimum. My apartment building has three, in theory, but they break down a lot. You should also consider the number of elevators in relation to the next criterion.
- The number of floors in the building versus the number of floors you have to go. In terms of time, the taller the building, the longer it will take for an elevator to reach you. But let’s face it, you are more likely to take the elevator to the fourth floor of a four story building than the fourth floor of a twenty story building. This is more of a psychological issue than a time or energy issue. Anyone headed to the fifteenth floor might look at you funny if you take the elevator to the fourth floor. And they will not be blamed if they shove you off the elevator after you went up only one floor. If you took the elevator down one floor, you are taking your life into your own hands, my friend.
- Up vs down. Below six or seven floors, down is almost always faster than waiting for the elevator. And the energy required is relatively minimal. If you were going to pace while you were waiting for the elevator, you probably used about the same amount of energy. Up, however, takes considerably more energy and, as the number of floors increases, considerably more time. When fatigue sets in, you can’t move nearly as quickly as you did at first. So when deciding to take the stairs up, consider…
- Physical fitness. If climbing a single flight of steps leaves you winded, then stick to the elevator. However, if you’re one of those people who races up the Empire State building every year, take the stairs. Save the elevator a stop.
- Time of day. Just like the highways, there is usually a rush hour for elevators. At the worst part of the morning, if you live more than four floors from the top, you may have to wait two elevator cycles to get a spot. Going up, you can usually see if there is a crowd waiting in the lobby and make a quick decision as to whether or not you’ll be able to get a ride any time soon.
- Accessories. The only way, the ONLY way you may be forgiven for taking the elevator up or down one floor when you are otherwise physically capable is if you have stuff that may make stairs difficult to maneuver such as suitcases, boxes, heavy items, bulky items, an armful of groceries, or giant pandas.

As it happens, I am far enough from the top of my building that I walk down and far enough from the lobby that I take the elevator up unless I’m feeling particularly in need of exercise. So there you have it. All the things you need to consider when waiting for the elevator and eyeing the stairwell. And if, by the time you are done thinking through all of these criteria, the elevator still has not come, perhaps it’s a sign that you should, indeed, take the stairs.


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1/12/2006 6:02 PM  

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