Going up?

Unless you’re a marathon stair-climber with rocket-powered calves, a high-rise is only as accessible as its elevator system.

Otis Elevator Co., the world’s largest manufacturer of elevators, escalators and moving walkways, has got the art of people-moving down to a science.

People will wait 20 seconds for an elevator before getting impatient, according to Otis mathematician Theresa Christy in a fascinating profile in the Wall Street Journal. Christy’s goal is to usher elevator riders into a car in under a third of a minute.

For the $550 million upgrade of the Empire State Building several years ago, Christy had to calculate the best way to get more visitors to the observation deck. To move people as efficiently as possible, Christy raised elevator speed by 20 percent to 20 feet per second. Now, the cars can fly up 80 floors in roughly 48 seconds.

More interesting tidbits from the Journal profile:

  •  About 18 billion elevator rides occur in the US every year.
  • Japan has the best-riding elevators in the world, according to Christy. “When you get into an elevator there, you sometimes think you are ‘stuck’ in the elevator because the motion is so smooth and quiet,” she said. The trade-off is that transport is slower and more costly.
  • In the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the elevators have to move people quickly through the buildings, so they can pray five times a day.
  • In Asia, more people are amenable to cramming in elevators than in Europe or North America, where passengers prefer more personal space. When Christy programs an elevator system, she takes the average weight of the region into account. The average American passenger is 22 pounds heavier than the average Chinese rider.

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