This evening I saw a father and a small boy stopped on stairs leading down to the Chambers Street station in lower Manhattan. The boy was saying he didn't want to go down the stairs. The father was conceding. The boy was scared. Something about going down the stairs freaked him out.
I've seen it before, people frozen as they're about to get on an escalator going down. It's perfectly safe. I do it without thinking. I have no fear. I've even stopped to listen, and offered that there was an elevator to take. Once told of the opportunity, they always go that route.
Something like this happens to me when I have to climb down a ladder from some height. I don't have any trouble going up, it's going down that spooks me. It happened at a rooftop New Years Eve party in San Francisco, the big one on December 31, 1999. After the celebration was over, everyone went down, climbed down the ladder we had gone up, but I just couldn't do it. I stayed up there for an hour, made a bunch of approaches. People below said it's no big deal. I wished they would just go away, and let me do this myself. Finally when they gave up, I slowly put myself over the edge and climbed down, uneventfully. What choice did I have? Believe me, if I had had one, I would have taken it.
No moral of the story. You can't explain irrational fears to people who don't have them, and you can't reason with them either. If you have no choice, eventually you take the leap. If only there was an elevator...