Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Matt Johnson

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. Hes a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer. 

Photography


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 84

On Tuesday, we posted our eighty-fourth challenge to see how well you knew Metro. I took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got 29 guesses. Twenty of you got all five. Great work to the winners!


Image 1: King Street

This week, all of the stations featured are stations that are adjacent to active railroad tracks. The first picture was taken along the walkway to the Commonwealth Avenue entrance at King Street. This entrance was added long after the station opened, and it's far enough north that the platform had to be extended. But the extended platform doesn't serve trains (they still stop in the original location), so fences along the tracks keep people back from moving trains.

The presence of this fence, plus the three-track railroad bridge in the background are both clues that this is King Street. Nearly all of you (26) got this one right.


Image 2: Brookland

The second image shows ancillary rooms at the north end of the Brookland platform, viewed from the Michigan Avenue bridge. The main clue here is that the Metro tracks are straddled by a single freight track on either side, which happens only along the Red Line between Brookland and Silver Spring. That means that this could only be one of four stations.

At Fort Totten and Takoma, there's no way to get a view like this, since there are no bridges nearby. At Silver Spring, there is a bridge over the southern end of the station, however, from that bridge, the MARC platforms would be visible, as would many tall buildings, since Silver Spring is so urban.

One final clue is the cleft in the blockhouse at bottom right. That cleft is home to the base of a bridge support from the older Michigan Avenue Bridge. That bridge was still in use when Brookland station was constructed, so the ancillary rooms were built around the bridge support. However, the current Michigan Avenue bridge was constructed and opened shortly after Brookland station opened to passengers. The old base still exists, though.

Twenty-one of you knew this one.


Image 3: Rockville

The third image shows the view northward from Rockville station. Given that many Metro stations are next to railroad tracks, this one was harder to narrow down, but there were some clues. One is the new platform pavers, which are present now at most Red Line outdoor stations, but few stations on other lines.

The buildings around the gentle curve in the distance also may have helped you narrow this down. The one closest to the station is 401 Hungerford, home to Montgomery County's Department of Health and Human Services. Another clue is the adjacent railroad bridge over Park Road, which is fairly distinctive.

Twenty-one figured this one out.


Image 4: Minnesota Avenue

The fourth image shows a view westward from the platform at Minnesota Avenue. There are a few clues. The most distinctive is probably the bridge over DC 295 at center. That bridge leads to a long ramp down to the station's mezzanine, the top of which is visible as well.

A second clue is the catenary masts with missing catenary. The railroad line between Landover and L'Enfant Plaza (via the Virginia Avenue Tunnel) was electrified just like the rest of the Pennsylvania Railroad between Washington and New York. Back then, not only were passenger trains hauled by electric locomotives, so were freight trains. For that reason, electric wires ran above this freight bypass of Union Station, all the way south to Potomac Yard, where the Pennsy handed off freight trains to the Southern Railway and the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac (RF&P).

Conrail stopped running electric-hauled freights in the mid-1980s, so the wires are long gone. But the supporting masts survive. These wire-less masts run alongside the Orange Line between Cheverly and Minnesota Avenue. So that should have helped you narrow this down.

One more clue that may have helped narrow this down is the parked coal hopper. This stretch of track leads into CSX's Benning Yard, where many of the coal hoppers bound for the Morgantown Generating Station and the Chalk Point Generating Station are stored. Parked coal trains are a common sight on this portion of the Orange Line.

Twenty-two got the right answer (dontcha know).


Image 5: Landover

The final image was taken looking south from Landover station. From this vantage point, you can see the electrified Northeast Corridor. Since it's impossible to tell whether the catenary here is still present (due to the foliage), this could be any Orange Line station between New Carrollton and Minnesota Avenue.

With the Amtrak corridor to the right of the image, this must be a picture looking south. It can't be Cheverly, since that station has side platforms. At New Carrollton, the Amtrak/MARC station would be visible at right and there's a bridge within sight of the southern end of the platform.

Additionally, the southern ends of New Carrollton, Deanwood, and Minnesota Avenue have blockhouses with ancillary rooms (like seen in image 2 at Brookland), so the view to the south is not possible. Minnesota Avenue and Deanwood also have freight tracks on both sides of the platform, which aren't visible here.

That leaves Landover, which twenty-two of you were able to correctly deduce.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at http://ggwash.org/whichwmata.

Photography


Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 84

It's time for the eighty-fourth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of five stations in the Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun. Please have your answers in by noon on Thursday.

UPDATE: The answers are here.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at http://ggwash.org/whichwmata.

Photography


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 83

On Tuesday, we posted our eighty-third photo challenge to see how well you knew Metro. I took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got 21 guesses. Eight of you got all five. Great work, Peter K, Solomon, FN, Stephen C, AlexC, dpod, Travis Maiers, and We Will Crush Peter K!


Image 1: Navy Yard

The first image shows a platform pylon at Navy Yard station. Many of you decided the cherry blossom sticker must mean that this was Smithsonian station. But during cherry blossom season, these stickers appear all over WMATA on faregates, station booths, pylons, and any other surface they easily adhere to. So in this case, it was a bit of a pink herring.

There were two real clues. The first is the word "Transportation," which in this case is a snippet of the name of a major destination at the New Jersey Avenue end of the station: Department of Transportation. This led some of you to guess L'Enfant Plaza, where USDOT used to be headquartered.

The other clue was the fact that there are two wheelchair icons and arrows pointing in opposite directions. There are only two underground stations in the system that have two entrances that are both wheelchair accessible. The two are Friendship Heights and Navy Yard. We talked about stations with redundant elevators in a post last year.

Twelve figured out that this was Navy Yard.


Image 2: Morgan Boulevard

The second picture is looking up at development adjacent to Morgan Boulevard station. These residences are fairly distinctive, and if you were able to narrow this down a bit, could be spotted on Google Street View.

To narrow it down, note the style of the concrete matches the style used in the three stations opened in 2004 (Largo, Morgan Boulevard, and NoMa). The concrete is split into these rectangles, unlike at other stations.

The white fencing atop the wall is also indicative of newer stations. Up until 2001, when the Adopted Regional System was completed with the opening of the Green Line extension to Branch Avenue, Metro mainly used brown for all metal surfaces. The stations built in 2004 and later have silver finishes.

Fourteen guessed Morgan Boulevard.


Image 3: Twinbrook

The third image was taken at Twinbrook. It's the fourth time we've featured this station in the series.

You can tell from the image that this is a low-lying station with a Gull I style canopy with lots of surface parking.

There are 15 Gull I stations. Seven of those stations are elevated, so that eliminates them as possibilities. We can eliminate Cheverly since it has side platforms. New Carrollton, Deanwood, and Minnesota Avenue have catenary supports behind them (for the Northeast Corridor and formerly electrified Penn Central freight line). Brookland is in an open cut, so it's out as well.

That leaves Van Dorn Street, Shady Grove, and Twinbrook. At Van Dorn Street, the parking lot is on the opposite side of Eisenhower Avenue (and downhill) from the station. At Shady Grove, from this angle, the parking garages would be visible. That leaves Twinbrook.

Additionally, you might have recognized the buildings in the background. The Maryland license plates may have also helped you narrow this down.

Sixteen guessed correctly.


Image 4: Huntington

The fourth image shows unique signage at Huntington's southern entrance. As shown in week 14, Huntington has two narrow escalators on either side of a regular-width escalator. And this is the only place in the system to have narrow escalators.

In a usual arrangement, the station probably would have had three (regular-width) escalators that could be running with two in the peak direction and one in the reverse direction. But in order to make the station wheelchair accessible to the south, Metro built an inclined elevator. That left room for only two regular-width escalators.

The problem with that meant that the demand would be uneven, but the supply would be set at 50/50. A regular-width Metro escalator has room for two people to stand side-by-side. So, with three escalators, Metro could be running two down in the morning (4 people across) and one up (2 people across). But with room for just two escalators, there'd be one down (2 people across) and one up (2 people across). That's inefficient.

The narrow escalators allow for better balancing. In the morning, one narrow escalator and the regular-width escalator are going down (3 people across) with the other narrow escalator going up (1 person across). That actually gives a better split (75% peak direction) than the three escalator option (67% peak direction), but still has a lower overall capacity (3 of 4 people width versus 4 of 6 people width).

Fifteen came to the correct conclusion.


Image 5: Clarendon

The final image probably looked harder than it really was. It takes just a little synthesis to put together that the correct answer was Clarendon. Virginia Square was also a very good guess, but it's not the correct answer.

What do we know from the picture?

We can see that this is a "Waffle" station [32 possible stations] that has side platforms [12 possibilities] and is served by either the Orange or Red Lines (you can see a swatch of orange in the destination sign), which leaves nine stations.

What else can we see? The far wall doesn't have a mezzanine. That means that this is a station that does not have entrances on both ends, which eliminates all the downtown and transfer stations. That leaves just three possibilities (or five if you didn't notice Pentagon City and Crystal City aren't served by the Red or Orange lines).

The three stations that are left are Ballston, Clarendon, and Virginia Square.

It can't be Ballston because at that station, the mezzanine is at the far eastern end of the platform, with its "tuning fork" style mezzanine pointed west. From this perspective at Ballston (and Pentagon City, for that matter), the mezzanine above would appear concave, not convex, and the escalators would be visible.

This perspective, with the convex shape of the mezzanine means we're under the end opposite from the escalators, so this has to be a station with a central mezzanine. Both Clarendon and Virginia Square have this attribute.

There were two ways to get the right answer from here. The first is that at Virginia Square, the mezzanine is much closer to the western end of the station than at Clarendon. At Virginia Square, the far wall would be very close to the vantage point.

The other way to figure this out is to know where the exit is. At Clarendon, the exit is to the north (to the right if you're facing Vienna). At Virginia Square, it's to the south. The bridge from the mezzanine to the street escalators is visible at the top right corner, meaning this is Clarendon.

But wait! There's one more detail. Virginia Square has a bridge like this over the Vienna platform, too. The platform elevator on either side has a bridge between the vault wall and the mezzanine. How do you know this isn't it? Because it's farther away from the convex point of the mezzanine. There's a good deal of straight mezzanine railing before it starts to curve over the tracks.

Ten of you got it right.

Note: Some of you mistook electrical conduit on the far wall for knockout panels. Many stations have conduit like this, which are metal tubes with wires inside mounted on the station walls. I apologize that the photo quality wasn't sufficient to make this clearer. But it couldn't be Pentagon City because of the reasons outlined above.

Great work, everyone! We'll be back in two weeks with the next quiz.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at http://ggwash.org/whichwmata.

Photography


Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 83

It's time for the eighty-third installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of five stations in the Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun. Please have your answers in by noon on Thursday.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at http://ggwash.org/whichwmata.

Transit


Metro's shutdown plan deserves our support. Now local governments must step up.

It's sad that Metro has gotten so decrepit that months-long shutdowns and single-tracking are necessary. But they are. And kudos to Metro for admitting this and coming up with a detailed plan to fix it.


Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.

Honestly, we'd feared the shutdowns would be far worse. This plan seems to concentrate them into as narrow a place as necessary while getting work done where needed (as far as we can tell, anyway).

It's going to be painful for riders, but we'll need to manage, because it's clear that the previous maintenance scheme, of shutdowns just over nights and weekends and bouts of single-tracking, hasn't been working.

As Maryland delegate Marc Korman said on today's NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt, Metro leaders have to make sure the maintenance that gets done, gets done right. The connectors in the Orange/Blue/Silver tunnel through DC, which caught fire earlier this year and forced the day-long total shutdown, had just been supposedly inspected and repaired. Riders are not going to tolerate having their lines shut down and then learning the maintenance wasn't actually done correctly.

Also, the tracks aren't the only problem for Wiedefeld to tackle. Rail cars have been down for maintenance much more often than they should be, forcing Metro to run lower levels of service than promised. These shutdowns won't fix that. But managers may need to focus intensely on one problem at a time, at least until Wiedefeld can replace some of the poorly performing managers and employees, as he's promised to do.

Hopefully, though, the shutdowns will get Metro back to a place where, at the very least, we can be confident in its safety. That's important.


Virginia has a few bus lanes. It needs many more. Photo by Dan Malouff.

Jurisdictions have to help

These shutdowns will affect huge numbers of people. According to Metro's presentation, the closure from NoMa to Fort Totten will affect 108,000 people; East Falls Church to Ballston, 73,000; Eastern Market to Minnesota/Benning, 61,000; and on and on. That is, let's be clear, a lot of people.

If they all drive, it will mean massive gridlock. Many will telework or shift their hours and such, but unlike with the one-day shutdown where a lot of people could stay home for a day, that can't work for weeks or months on end.

Buses can replace some service, but if those buses are just stuck in major gridlock, then there won't be enough buses and little incentive for anyone to take them. There will need to be temporary bus-only or HOV-3/4 lanes.

Many more people will be trying to walk and bike, and many jurisdictions can do much better to make sure people feel safe and are safe on these other modes.

It would have been nice for jurisdictions to have started planning bus lanes and other measures long ago, but the shutdown plan is here now and there's no luxury of time. Some areas have 6-9 months to prepare, while others (like Alexandria and southern Fairfax, or northern Prince George's) will be hit soon.

We can't wait for the typical interminable studies. Just as the region made extraordinary changes for the inauguration, this also calls for unusual measures. Local DOTs should make aggressive plans for temporary bus lanes and then try them out, making changes over time to ensure they work.


Photo by Kevin Harber on Flickr.

We want to hear more about the late night

If ending service at midnight is really necessary, then maybe it's necessary, but we'd like to hear more. Does it have to be system-wide? And if it's going to be permanent, as Metro is considering, then we really want a more thorough analysis of the pros and cons.

Paul Wiedefeld has said that Metro will not open early or late for any special events over the next year. There's some sense to that, but some of these special events, like the Marine Corps Marathon, draw huge crowds with little alternate way for many people to get there. We're worried about what the impact will be.

Fretting about the effects of shutting down Metro in the past has led to Metro needing bigger shutdowns now, and so if it's needed, it's needed. But we think the case has to be made in more detail first.

We'll have more on contributor reactions to the late night issue in an upcoming post. Meanwhile, we're planning to organize residents to push for measures like bus lanes. If you agree or just want to find out more, sign up below.

Keep me informed

Let me know when there are chances to push for bus lanes and other ways to ensure that Metro riders can still get where they need to go during Metro's upcoming maintenance "surges."

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Photography


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 82

On Tuesday, we posted our eighty-second photo challenge to see how well you knew Metro. I took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got 27 guesses. Nine got all five. Great work Peter K, JamesDCane, Justin..., Chris H, AlexC, Dillon the Pickle, FN, Solomon, and Stephen C!


Image 1: Tysons Corner

The first image is the view of Tysons Corner station from the plaza adjacent to the Vita building. Given the unique Silver Line architecture, you should have been able to easily narrow this down to the two "Gambrel" style stations. But Tysons Corner station isn't in a median, like Greensboro is, so this can't be Greensboro. All but one of you got this one right. Great work.


Image 2: Fort Totten

The second picture shows the top of a memorial plaque in the mezzanine at Fort Totten. The "Y OF" that is visible is part of the phrase, "in memory of," and is a memorial to the nine people killed in the 2009 Metro crash just north of the station.

Additionally, the windows and angles here are indicative of the mezzanine shape of Fort Totten. From this vantage point, we're looking toward the two escalators connecting the mezzanine to the Green/Yellow platform.

Twenty knew the correct answer.


Image 3: Van Dorn Street

The third image shouldn't have been too hard if you know the architecture of the system. The presence of three Blue Line trains on the PIDS tells you that this is almost certainly a Blue-only station, of which there are only three in the system. This picture was taken on a Saturday, but even though you didn't know that, there are times (weekends and off-peak), when Van Dorn and Franconia are not served by the Yellow Line.

Two of the three Blue-only stations can be easily eliminated. Arlington Cemetery is depressed in an open cut (so the trees wouldn't be visible) and doesn't have a canopy at all. Instead, it's only covered where Memorial Avenue crosses it. Week 8 gives you a sense of what that looks like. Franconia/Springfield, on the other hand has a very different canopy and the PIDS signs have a different format at terminal stations (BLUE LINE | LARGO CENTER | LEAVING 3 MINS).

But even if there had been only one Blue Line train on the board, you still could have solved this. That's because the canopy visible here is a "Gull I" design. And the only Gull I station served by the Blue Line is Van Dorn Street.

Twenty-five figured it out.


Image 4: Wheaton

The fourth image was a little trickier, and required you to take a second look to figure out that this was Wheaton. Many of you went with your first instinct, but closer inspection should have revealed this to be a twin-tube station. One clue is the presence of "can" lights hanging from the vault, which aren't present at the higher single-vault stations.

The perspective here is clearly looking through the doors of an elevator. Some downtown stations do have side platforms with the elevator in an alcove off to the side like this. But all of those stations have the "waffle" design, not the taller coffer "arch"-style. None of the "Arch I" or "Arch II" stations have side platforms. And that means this has to be one of the twin-tube stations.

It can't be Forest Glen because, as several of you noted, the elevators there all land in a common lobby and are farther from the tracks. At Wheaton, however, the solitary elevator lands not in the escalator lobby, but in an alcove at the far northern end of the Shady Grove platform.

Ten came to the correct conclusion.


Image 5: Capitol Heights

The final image was even more challenging, but there was enough information to figure out that it's Capitol Heights.

Like with image 3 above, you can tell that this station is served only by the Blue and Silver Lines (since the Orange Line isn't listed on the sign). There are only two underground stations that are served by the Blue and Silver, so even without additional information, you could have made a guess with a 50/50 probability of getting the right answer. Some of you did that and got lucky.

But there was a way to be 100% certain, and it involves knowing that while Benning Road and Capitol Heights are nearly identical, they're mirror images of each other. In week 56 we also ran a set with a similar signage clue and noted in the answers post the difference between the two stations.

At both stations, the single mezzanine is at the far end of the platform. At Benning Road, the mezzanine is at the east end. At Capitol Heights, it's at the west end. That means that when you descend to the platform at Capitol Heights, you're facing east. And if you're facing east, trains going eastbound to Largo are on your right, and trains going west toward downtown are on your left.

One final note: The reason you know this sign is at the bottom of the escalator when you arrive is because this is a fairly typical application of WMATA's signing in this case, since this is a decision point and because anywhere else on the platform, the column would also include a strip map of farther stations reached on the appropriate track.

Nineteen came to the correct conclusion.

Thanks for playing! We'll be back in two weeks with our next quiz.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at http://ggwash.org/whichwmata.

Photography


Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 82

It's time for the eighty-second installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of five stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun. Please have your answers in by noon on Thursday.

UPDATE: The answers are here.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at http://ggwash.org/whichwmata.

Photography


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 81

On Tuesday, we posted our eighty-first photo challenge to see how well you knew Metro. I took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got 50 guesses. Sixteen got all five. Great work JamesDCane, AlexC, Peter K, Eric P, Stephen C, ajw4, Solomon, Sand Box John, FN, Chris H, Andy L, dpod, DavidDuck, merarch, Travis Maiers, and We Will Crush Peter K!


Image 1: Medical Center

The first image shows a platform pylon at Medical Center. There are five stations in the system with "center" in their name: Federal Center SW, Largo Town Center, Medical Center, Metro Center, and Mount Vernon Square/Convention Center.

However, Metro Center and Federal Center have waffle-style vaults, Largo is outdoors, and the "Center" in Mount Vernon Square wraps onto a second line of text on the pylon. That leaves Medical Center. Additionally, you can see that the vault here has only four coffers, making it Arch I, present only on the Red Line's Shady Grove end.

Forty-four knew this one.


Image 2: Branch Avenue

The second image shows the southern terminal of the Green Line, Branch Avenue. There are only four high peak stations, which narrows the field considerably. The next train indicator is a hint that this station is a terminal station. It's true that these signs are also present at some stations that used to be terminals, however none of the high peak stations are former terminals.

That leaves the two current terminals, Franconia/Springfield and Branch Avenue. However, Franconia is not in an open cut with retaining walls on either side. Additonally, the trapezoidal caps on the columns supporting the canopy are only present at Branch Avenue. That attribute was featured in week 66.

Forty-three got the right answer.


Image 3: Cheverly

The third image shows a view looking northwest from the Vienna platform at Cheverly. This image was harder than I anticipated, given the clues present.

The presence of single-level Amtrak equipment narrows this down to one of the stations along the Orange Line between Cheverly and New Carrollton, the Blue Line between Braddock Road and Franconia, and NoMa. The only Amtrak service along the Red Line is the Capitol Limited, which uses double-decker equipment.

But another clue is that the station has side platforms, which you can tell from the perspective. Finally, it's an outdoor side-platform station with a mezzanine above the tracks. Only Cheverly fits the bill.

Only 30 got the correct result.


Image 4: Vienna

The fourth image shows a view from the platform escalator into the mezzanine at Vienna. The main clue is the sign overhead, which directs passengers to the north and south side access roads, with buses and parking on both sides, a situation only present at Vienna and Wiehle Avenue.

The skylights are indicative of a general peak station with a mezzanine above the tracks. And the design here is clearly older than the more modern touches on the recently-opened Silver Line.

Thirty-nine guessed correctly.


Image 5: King Street

The final image shows a station pylon at King Street. This one was a little tricky, I'll admit, which is why I put it last. I order the five images so that they increase with (what I believe to be) difficulty from first to last.

The entrance pylon at the corner of King Street and Diagonal Road was never updated after the Blue Line was extended from National Airport to Van Dorn Street in 1991 (the Yellow Line was extended from National Airport to Huntington, including King Street, in 1983).

Many of you were either familiar with the absence of the blue stripe on this pylon or correctly deduced that the letter just below the yellow stripe was a "K". King Street is the only station that starts with the letter K.

I know it was tempting to guess Huntington, since the first letter clearly wasn't an E, and only Eisenhower Avenue and Huntington are served only by the Yellow Line. However, this erroneously labled pylon is distinctive, and I left enough of the K, I thought, for this to be fair game.

Twenty-four of you figured it out anyway. Great work!

Thanks for playing! We'll be back in two weeks with our next quiz.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at http://ggwash.org/whichwmata.

Photography


Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 81

It's time for the eighty-first installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of five stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun. Please have your answers in by noon on Thursday.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at http://ggwash.org/whichwmata.

Transit


If Metro adds "Kennedy Center" and "National Mall" to station names, it will confuse riders

Metro has a long history of appending extra names to stations. It's a problem for several reasons, notably because of the confusion it causes, the complexity it adds to the map, and the cost to taxpayers. The latest proposals call for adding "National Mall" and "Kennedy Center" to station names. Both should be scuttled.


The Smithsonian Castle and eponymous Metro station. Photo by the author.

This Thursday, the WMATA Board will take up proposals to change the names of two stations: Foggy Bottom-GWU will become Foggy Bottom-GWU with a subtitle of Kennedy Center, and Smithsonian will get National Mall as a subtitle if the proposals pass. These suggestions come from the District government.

Metro's staff are recommending against renaming Foggy Bottom. Two-thirds of riders surveyed via their Amplify tool disliked the proposal. But they are recommending adding National Mall to Smithsonian because 54% of those surveyed supported the idea.

Metro's current policy limits station names to 19 characters, including the subtitles, which were a new innovation in 2011 which David Alpert and I devised in our contest to redesign the map.

Many stations' names predate that policy and violate that principle, some quite egregiously, like the 44-character U Street/African-Amer Civil War Mem'l/Cardozo. Both proposals before the board would also violate the rule.

Don't misinform riders

The thing about the National Mall is that it's actually quite a large place. It stretches two miles from the west steps of the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. Depending on where one is going, several different stations could suffice.


The National Mall and surrounding Metro stops. Image from Google Maps.

One complaint from tourists is that "Smithsonian" itself isn't particularly descriptive. If you're going to the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian isn't your stop. If you're going to the Smithsonian National Zoo, Cleveland Park is the closest (not, as you might expect, Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan).

Still, most of the Smithsonian museums are clustered in the area, and the Smithsonian Castle is only steps away from Smithsonian station. But the National Mall is an even bigger area. And parts of it are much easier to get to from other stops.

The Capitol Botanical Gardens are much closer to Capitol South and Federal Center SW. The Lincoln Memorial is more easily accessed from Foggy Bottom and Arlington Cemetery.

Adding "National Mall" to the Smithsonian station name may encourage even more riders to overcrowd the station trying to get to the National Mall, when really they would have been better off not transferring at L'Enfant Plaza (itself close to the Mall).

Metro already spends resources telling tourists and locals not to use Smithsonian to get to the Cherry Blossom Festival, the Fourth of July fireworks, and other major events. Adding the name will likely make that problem worse.

Also, the Mall is already on the map. One of the elements of the recent Metro map redesign is a dark green rectangle showing the extent of the National Mall. Smithsonian station is clearly within that rectangle, and as a result, adding the name is clearly overkill.


The National Mall is shown on the map already. Image from WMATA.

Compared to other cities, our system has lots of ambiguity and confusion

One of the reasons that Metro keeps names short is because in terms of wayfinding, complex names add complexity and reduce how easy it is to comprehend the system.

Consider other cities.

With few exceptions, Montreal's Metro uses one-word names, generally named after the cross street or a nearby feature. Stations like Atwater, Place-des-Armes, and Saint-Laurent are easily understood, even by non French speakers (though Lionel-Groulx is quite the mouthful).

In New York, stations are very concise. South Ferry. 72. Pelham Bay Park. Chicago keeps it short, too. Damen. Howard. Randolph/Wabash.

Los Angeles largely uses intersections. Vermont/Sunset. Exposition/Crenshaw. Pershing Square.

These short names are good because they're easy to understand, they're descriptive, and they're largely unambiguous. New York and Chicago do have issues with repeated names (in Chicago, there are two Clintons, for example).

One example of how we do things differently is Mount Vernon Square. In Washington, it's an important station because it serves as a terminal for the Yellow Line. Trains headed into the city frequently carry its name on destination signs. Tourists need to be able to find the station quickly on the map to figure out where the train is bound.

But Mount Vernon Square is really called Mount Vernon Sq-7th St-Convention Center. And some signage in the system calls it simply "Convention Center". For instance, at Gallery Place, signs on the lower level say that Yellow trains headed north are bound for "Fort Totten via Convention Center." But when those trains show up, they say "Mount Vernon Square." So which is it?


To Fort Totten via "Convention Center." Photo by the author.

Someone might tell an out of town guest to meet them at the Chinatown Metro, but when the train operator calls it simply "Gallery Place," they don't alight. That's a problem.

Or when listening to an announcement that trains are "single tracking between Dunn Loring Merrifield and West Falls Church University of Virginia Virginia Tech," irregular riders can be excused for wondering whether that's two stations or six.

The western end of the Silver Line is Wiehle-Reston East. Many people simply call that station the "Reston" station. That's a problem because in a few years, Metro will open a new station at Reston Town Center. The real Reston station. But old habits die hard, and people will probably still call the station at Wiehle Avenue "Reston" or "Reston East."

Metro refuses to learn from its mistakes

Time and again, jurisdictions have submitted naming requests. There have been some truly awful suggestions, like Navy Yard- (with an actual curly "" logo for the Nationals, who play nearby. (Metro staff strongly recommended against that abomination.)

Often, however, the agency punts to the jurisdiction, saying that there's "no cost" to WMATA, since the local government is picking up the tab.

There is a cost to WMATA, though. The cost of comprehension and navigability.

Station names should really reflect simply one thing. That might be a street or intersection, a neighborhood, or a nearby venue. If something changes, like a new convention center being constructed, Metro should certainly consider changing station names. But only at the expense of actually removing the old name and replacing it.

Mount Vernon Square-7th Street-Convention Center should either be Mount Vernon Square or Convention Center. Not both.

So, if "National Mall" is so compelling to add to Smithsonian, it should replace the name Smithsonian. But that would be the wrong call, because as noted, the National Mall is a big place which is served by at least four other Metro stations.

It's time the name sprawl stopped. If you agree, contact the Metro Board and say that you oppose this change using the form below. But don't wait long. The vote is on Thursday.

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