Greater Greater Washington

Better signs could speed trains through Fort Totten

Fort Totten is a convenient transfer point between Metro lines outside the core, but the station layout results in unnecessary crowding. Better signage could improve passenger flow and speed up trains, by helping users know where to stand on the platform.


Photo by tracktwentynine on Flickr.

Though crowding at Fort Totten is not as severe as at Gallery Place, the crowding at Fort Totten does cause delays to southbound Green and Yellow trains, and can also cause passengers to miss the train.

The basic problem is that the only access to the Green/Yellow platform is at the extreme northern end. Since Metro trains now pull all the way to the front of stations, there is a gap at the end of the platform for 6-car trains.

At most stations this isn't a problem, because escalators drop passengers closer to the middle of the platform. But at Fort Totten, riders on the Green/Yellow platform arrive well behind the end point of southbound 6-car trains. When a southbound train arrives, there is often a mad rush to get to the last door.

The result is that dozens of people try to push through a single door, which forces trains to stay on the platform longer, delaying the trip and gumming up the schedule. Even then, a clump of passengers is sometimes left on the platform to wait for the next train.

Metro could help alleviate this problem with clever signs. One potential solution is already in place elsewhere in the system. National Airport and Union Station both have entrances that are at extreme ends of the platform, similar to Fort Totten. They are also stations that have a lot of non-regular riders.

Because the escalators at these stations eject riders onto the platform well behind where 6-car trains stop, WMATA placed signs encouraging riders to walk further down the platform.


National Airport. Photo by the author.

Signage like that could help at Fort Totten. However, simple overhead signs often blend into the background and are overlooked. A more visible and therefore more useful solution might be floor signage:


Floor sign in the Montreal Metro. Photo by the author.

Montreal makes good use of signs like the one pictured above in its Metro. At Fort Totten, a large, colorful floor sign could clearly indicate to riders that they should move down the platform. Such a floor sign might look something like this:

Another option is to put signs on the wall across the tracks from the southbound platform, more precisely indicating where the sixth car stops.

To make boarding even easier, WMATA might consider encouraging riders to walk at least down to where the fifth car stops, rather than merely to the end of the sixth.

This is because with southbound trains, the sixth car is often the most crowded before it even gets to Fort Totten. Savvy Green Line riders intending to transfer to the Red Line cluster in the sixth car, to put themselves as close as possible to the escalators leading up to the Red platform, and thus reduce the likelihood that they will miss a Red Line train that's about to leave. Also, the escalators and stairs at Prince George's Plaza and West Hyattsville deposit riders at the sixth car's position, so a lot of people just end up in that car anyway.

During rush hour, as many as half the riders in the sixth car can be trying to get out at Fort Totten. In many instances, it takes the entire time the train has its doors open for all the exiting passengers in the sixth car to alight. There is frequently no time for people waiting outside the sixth car to start boarding. On the other hand, those who've walked further down the platform are already on board.

When 6-car southbound trains arrive at Fort Totten, the cluster of patrons who've been standing at the position of (non-existent) cars 7 and 8 dash up and cluster around the last door of the train, making it harder for the stream of riders leaving the train to reach the escalators to the mezzanine and the Red Line.

A touch under half of southbound rush hour trains at Fort Totten's lower level are 8-cars long. This signage would discourage riders at Fort Totten from boarding those cars, but that's not a problem. Riders from other stations would still use those cars, and people just arriving from the Red Line would still be able to board from the end of the platform.

At any rate, the advantage of moving passengers further down the platform outweighs any possible disadvantage of having fewer Fort Totten riders board the last 2 or 3 cars.

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 Planning Department. His views are his own and do not represent the opinion of his employer. 

Comments

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They could also really use something like this at the Shady Grove platform at Gallery Place.

by andrew on Jun 28, 2012 10:37 am • linkreport

What a great idea!

by Cavan on Jun 28, 2012 10:51 am • linkreport

Did the designers envision the system being served by 8car trains all the time ? If so that would explain the platform designs if not what is the explanation for the designs

At Ft Totten specifically I have always thought that there should have been a second entrance at the western most portion of the Green lines platform for those walking down 1st Pl or getting off the bus.

Also the same thing happens at Stadium Armory, Union Station, Anacostia, Van Ness, Cleveland Park and some extent at Noma

The one that amazes me is Noma due to the escalator/elevator design. Everything is in the center of the station but it could have been built on both ends closer to the entrances/exits. At the south entrance/exit you walk a good 40-50 feet before there is an escalator and almost a block before the elevator when there is empty space that could have been used to place them closer

by kk on Jun 28, 2012 11:44 am • linkreport

Just out of curiosity, where did the 6 car Southbound Green (and Yellow) trains stop before the current policy of pulling to the end of the platform at every station went into effect? And is there any word on when that policy would be changed? I can imagine that one reason they would be reluctant to put up signs might be that Metro would like to go back to the automatic track controls that could stop the trains at different locations in each station, which would make the signs obsolete.

by Another Josh on Jun 28, 2012 11:57 am • linkreport

@Another Josh:
We're likely stuck with manual control for a few more years.

In the old days, the sixth car would have been positioned where the seventh car is shown.

by Matt Johnson on Jun 28, 2012 11:59 am • linkreport

@kk
Did the designers envision the system being served by 8car trains all the time ? If so that would explain the platform designs if not what is the explanation for the designs

They envisioned a system where trains stopped in the middle of the platform - this is how the system is designed. So the old 4-car trains would end where the 6-car trains that are stopped at the front now do. 6-car trains would end where the 7th car space is on the diagram.

But now that we're in manual mode for who knows how long, WMATA insists that all trains pull up.

I agree that signage is a good idea - maybe they can convince at least some people to move down the platform.

by MLD on Jun 28, 2012 12:02 pm • linkreport

This is a great idea and something I wondered about since I use Gallery Pl-Chinatown Station frequently and have seen the signs at the National Airport station.

Why do common sense ideas like this always need to be suggested on a blog -- what are the WMATA customer service, "researchers," rail operation staffers doing!?!

by Transport. on Jun 28, 2012 12:07 pm • linkreport

Unless the crowding is threatening to offload the entire train, I prefer that people remain oblivious and ignore daily usage patterns so I can get on empty trains and have a seat to myself.

by selxic on Jun 28, 2012 12:29 pm • linkreport

The solution to this problem is not to install signs. It's for Metro to either stop trains at the appropriate positions at the center of the platforms, or resume operating trains in automatic mode.

The current idiotic policy is a big inconvenience to commuters, and even worse, is very inefficient on a system that operates at crush capacity during the peak of the rush and during special events. The reason they started it is because a large number of train operators are either inept and poorly trained so they can't handle the simple task of counting how many cars they have and stopping the train at the appropriate spot (clearly marked at every platform) when operating in manual mode. A number of trains had doors open in the tunnels because operators would stop 8-car trains at spots designated for 6-car trains. So instead of improving operator training or punishing/firing the operators involved, the agency decided to have riders suffer instead.

Metro also claims they can't operate trains in manual mode (which would somewhat negate the need for competent operators) because it wouldn't be safe. Another negative result of this decision means the agency can no longer run trains with 2.5min headways on the Red Line on time.

I'm not usually one to complain (and the number of posts and comments on this site that insist on a perfect utopia alarms me), but the fact that such a large and critically important transit agency has such an asinine policy with such a simple and far more efficient alternative is too large to ignore.

by King Terrapin on Jun 28, 2012 1:46 pm • linkreport

I've been on many rail/metro/subway/street cars, one of the things I have liked the most is in LA metro system. They too have trains of varying length, however they do something different. During rush hour, they have 2 additional cars on the trains. For non rush hour, the train stops one car from the front of the station, and there are yellow markings to show where the front and rear of the train will be during non rush hour, and iirc, signage to describe that this will happen.

So in tl;dr form, the train is always centered, regardless of how many cars are attached.

by w4t on Jun 28, 2012 2:57 pm • linkreport

@selxic
--OH NOES! You have given away my secret to Ft Totten Speed Commuting!

The crowding thing is only a problem if you want to distribute people evenly throughout the train. The current setup is great for people who know where to go to get in an empty car.

by Alger on Jun 28, 2012 3:02 pm • linkreport

Or just return to automatic control for station stops, so that the train stops in the middle of the station instead of at the end! It seems like manual braking at the stations is the WMATA equivalent of removing shoes at the airport: it's theater that is vaguely related to a prior incident but that doesn't actually make the train any safer.

by Tom Veil on Jun 28, 2012 3:10 pm • linkreport

King Terrapin wrote:

The solution to this problem is not to install signs. It's for Metro to either stop trains at the appropriate positions at the center of the platforms, or resume operating trains in automatic mode.

The current idiotic policy is a big inconvenience to commuters, and even worse, is very inefficient on a system that operates at crush capacity during the peak of the rush and during special events

This.

by Arl Fan on Jun 28, 2012 3:27 pm • linkreport

@Alger: I'm always worried I'll have to share a seat when they tell people to move to the end of the platform or explain where the train will stop. Thankfully, the messages and warning consistently go ignored.

by selxic on Jun 28, 2012 3:50 pm • linkreport

The downtown SF BART stations have a clever way to deal with this -- the far wall of the station (the one that is behind the train when it arrives) has signs that say things like "Board 9 car trains here. Shorter trains" and then an arrow for where you're supposed to go.

It works well, but is more necessary there where trains can vary between 4 and 10 cars. But I think its perfectly suited to this situation.

Also, I totally agree with the comment on the NoMa station -- it sucks hitting the fare gate, seeing a "2" or less for your train, and having to break into a dead sprint to avoid missing it.

by Vinnie on Jun 28, 2012 4:15 pm • linkreport

@kk & vinnie

NoMa is my home station, and this has literally never been an issue for me. I think there's some other infrastructure (and a building) in the way by the South entrance that prevented them from putting the elevators/platform closer.

by andrew on Jun 28, 2012 4:28 pm • linkreport

Subway stations in Tokyo have signs that show which part of the train drops you off closest to stairs/escalators at other stations. Similar idea to showing where you should get on the train, and it's extremely useful:
http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3602/3409630366_68f8dbdefa_o.jpg

by dand on Jun 28, 2012 5:59 pm • linkreport

@ andrew

Noma was my home station so i know exactly what the layout of the station is.

The mezzanine is similar to that of Rhode Island Ave but everything is two-three times further apart. Just look at Rhode Island Ave station; you can clearly see how close everything is once you enter the metal frame and compare that to the glass/metal frame at Noma

Noma, Morgan Blvd and Largo Town Center are all the exact same way they all have everything spaced out far.

1 From the steps and doors you have the vending machines which are about 15-20 feet away from the doors give or take.

2 The closest fare machine is about 10 feet from the fare gates, then the closest escalator is about 20 feet but its not even facing you; you have to walk the entire length of it then turn around.

If the first escalator was facing the opposite way everything would be find.

3 The elevator is damn near a block from either entrance; there was plenty of space to but the elevators closer to the faregates on both sides. The only reason I could logically think of having both elevators there is for mechanical reasons beyond that it makes no damn sense to make the disabled or anyone really go a block out of the way its not like this is Gallery Place where they added the elevators at the last minute.

by kk on Jun 29, 2012 1:14 am • linkreport

Metro's policy of stopping at the most forward position in the station is stupid. It often forces people to run to get into the last car and crowds the last car with passengers that would have boarded the train more evenly spread out under other circumstances.

It's a stupid policy - most seriously in those stations where there are a lot of tourists riding the trains.

by Capt. Hilts on Jun 29, 2012 9:42 am • linkreport

Little factoid Matt:
The field color behind the white text on metrorail signs,   "metro brown"  , is Pantone No. 448C, Red 84, Green 71, Blue 45, HEX #54472D.

by Sand Box John on Jul 1, 2012 9:18 am • linkreport

Metro's policy of stopping at the most forward position in the station is stupid. It often forces people to run to get into the last car and crowds the last car with passengers that would have boarded the train more evenly spread out under other circumstances.

and encourages the operators to taunt paying passengers with inanities like "Customers, Please use all doors."

by Jim Call on Jul 2, 2012 3:25 pm • linkreport

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