Elevators make the modern city possible. In New York City alone, commuters take an estimated 4 million elevator rides per day on tens of thousands of elevators. In China, two-thirds of a million of them are put into commission every year. Globally, the industry approaches $125B. But as cities continue to grow — and grow vertically — this crux to innovation may ultimately be the Achilles’ heel of the city as we know it.
In recent weeks, the elevator has risen to the top of the list of office re-entry safety concerns. Social distancing guidelines recommend a distance of at least 6 feet, and researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health last week published their prediction that social distancing, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls “the best way to reduce the spread of the coronavirus disease,” may need to continue into 2022 to avoid exceeding critical care capacities.
Complying with global pandemic safety recommendations means finding ways for tenants in high-occupancy buildings to remain 6 feet apart — even while traveling upward via a shaft that is rarely more than five-and-a-half feet wide. Thus, as long as social distancing remains in place, elevators — like public transportation — are proving to be a choke point. No matter how far apart desks are or what high-tech sanitization solutions offices arrange, it is the elevator that may prevent most people from returning to the office, even if they wanted to.
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