Posts about Station Names
Metro's Medical Center station was almost called "Pooks Hill," and Navy Yard could have been "Weapons Plant." This 1967 map shows some of the amusing names that WMATA considered for a number of Metro stations.
Aside from Medical Center and Navy Yard having different names, you'll notice that Pentagon City is named Virginia Highlands and Federal Center SW is named Voice of America.
The names are crisper and more creative than the awkward over-hyphenization that is so common in today's system. Originally operating under a 15 character limit, Woodley Park - Zoo / Adams Morgan is shown more elegantly as Zoological Park (you can see where this one appears on the little map in the top left below), and Gallery Place - Chinatown is named Fine Arts (because of the Portrait Gallery).
In 2010, Matt Johnson wrote about "namesprawl," the "result of the idea that station names have to reflect absolutely everything remotely close by. This is generally done to encourage people to ride transit to these venues."
This map was included in a pamphlet that outlined the congressionally approved "basic system." It's surprising to think that a name like Weapons Plant made it through the committee process unscathed.
It's also amusing to see the proposal's high minded promise that "SERVICE WILL BE FREQUENT: Air conditioned trains will run every two minutes at peak hours."
An expanded version of this article appears on the Architect of the Capital blog.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Loudoun County wants your help in picking names for new Metro stations on the Silver Line.
Route 606 and Route 772 have been the placeholder names for the two stations west of Dulles Airport, but they're not going to be the permanent ones. Loudoun wants names that are "relevant, brief, unique, and evocative." Officials have presented some possibilities.
For Route 606, the suggestions include "Broad Run," "Dulles Gateway," and three that all have "Loudoun" in the name ("Loudoun East," "Loudoun Gateway," and "Loudoun Dulles North").
Route 772 just has three options: "Ashburn," "Loudoun," and "Loudoun Gateway West."
Station names are important. They can easily identify an area and even change its identity in some ways, like "Van Ness," which has become the name for the whole area around a station just named for a street nearby.
There was a lot of outcry over the the orginal boring station name proposals for the first phase of the Silver Line ("Tysons-McLean," "Tysons I&II," "Tysons Central," "Tysons-Spring Hill Road," "Reston-Wiehle Avenue," "Reston Town Center," "Herndon-Reston West," and "Herndon-Dulles East.") All four Tysons stations were variants on the word "Tysons," while two contained "Reston" and two "Herndon."
Fairfax changed them to more descriptive, unique names that will eventually help the surrounding areas develop distinct identities.
Loudoun might miss that opportunity if both stations end up the word "Loudoun" in the station names as well, or if there are two stations with the word "Dulles." Also, a name that just refers to a large area (Loudoun) with a word like "East" or "West" also doesn't create a neighborhood-level identity the way a unique name can.
Matt Johnson and David Alpert made this map of what the Metro system might look like if every station had a name that sounded like the now-rejected Fairfax options or some of the more boring Loudoun suggestions:
WMATA has also struggled with keeping names short, and now has a policy of limiting them to 19 characters. Some of the names are longer.
You can give your opinions at Loudoun's survey, picking from these or adding your own suggestions. And tell us what you like in the comments.
A newer version of this animation is here.
Metro is debuting its "Rush Plus" service today. In honor of this, the latest step in Metro's 34-year growth and evolution, here is an updated version of our popular animation showing the history of Metrorail service.
The rush hour service changes mean that riders headed east of Stadium-Armory or south of King Street (now King St-Old Town) will have to check the destination signs on their trains. Yellow Line and Blue Line riders may want to adjust their travel patterns.
The even more confusing service: Trains changing color
This isn't the most Metro has ever asked of riders, however. From November 20, 1978 to November 30, 1979, and then again from November 22, 1980 to April 29, 1983, some Blue and Orange trains used one color going in one direction, then switched colors heading back. If you lived in Clarendon in 1981, you would board a Blue Line train headed to DC and then catch an Orange Line train to get home.
Metro had to do this in 1978-1979 because trains at the time used physical rollsigns with text printed on a colored background. The New Carrollton sign had an orange background, while the National Airport destination sign used blue. Therefore, Metro had to have the trains switch colors for each direction.
Then, in the early 1980s, they started doing this again after the segment to Addison Road opened. At the time, with the Yellow Line not yet built, the demand for service on the Rosslyn to National Airport segment (now Blue) better matched the Stadium-Armory to New Carrollton segment (now Orange), and the demand on Rosslyn to Ballston (now Orange) lined up better with Stadium-Armory to Addison Road (now Blue).
Therefore, Metro ran trains from National Airport to New Carrollton and Ballston to Addison Road. But since the rollsigns didn't allow using the same color for each end of those services, the trains had to switch colors in each direction.
If Metro had to try something like this today for some reason, how do you think people would react?
The other rush-only service: Green Line Commuter Shortcut
This is also not the first time Metro has had rush hour only service. From December 11, 1993 to September 18, 1999, the Green Line had 2 unconnected segments, one from Greenbelt to Fort Totten and the other from U Street to Anacostia.
On January 27, 1997, Metro started using a single-track switch at Fort Totten to send rush hour Green Line trains from Greenbelt onto the Red Line. They ran on the Red Line tracks to Farragut North, where there is a pocket track to turn around. This "Green Line Commuter Shortcut" continued until the Green Line opened through Columbia Heights and Petworth, connecting the two sections permanently.
Metro never included this on its maps except for a green box explaining the service. Therefore, while today is not the first time Metro has run a rush hour-only service pattern, it's the first time the maps have displayed it, now using a dashed line.Metro's maps did show planned and under construction segments until 2004, but these maps do not. I've included the Silver Line under construction, however.
The dates of station name changes come from Wikipedia's pages on individual stations and other online sources. To keep the number of maps manageable, and because many stations' exact renaming dates are not available, I've grouped station renamings in with the next major service change, even when that takes place years later; for example, Metro renamed Ballston to Ballston-MU in 1995, but the next map, showing the Green Line Commuter Shortcut, depicts the system in 1997.
Metro's online survey about station names for the new Silver Line to Dulles and Reston will be ending on March 21. Have you filled it out?
This is your chance to push for station names that create a sense of place and tie in to the region's history and geography, rather than a boring, long, hyphenated string of road names.
Here are my picks, versus the official recommendations from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors:
|My pick||Fairfax Board pick|
|Tysons Corner||Tysons I&II|
|Spring Hill||Tysons-Spring Hill Road|
|Reston||Reston Town Center|
These names are short, can be used in the names of developments or buildings in the area, and will create a memorable name for the area around the station.
What did you pick?
Arlington County is seeking your input in naming stations on the new Crystal City/Potomac Yard (CCPY) Transitway, the first phase of which will provide Bus Rapid Transit service over part of a 5-mile corridor between the Pentagon in Arlington and Braddock Road Metro Station in Alexandria.
Arlington County has been moving aggressively with the project and is finalizing the designs for the portion that will run from the Crystal City Metro station to Four Mile Run, which separates Arlington from the City of Alexandria. As part of the design, the County has identified eight station stops and is seeking input from the community on station names.
Station names carry a particular significance as many of the bus rapid transit stations will become the core of a future light rail line, if current longer term planning carries through.
With few exceptions, the survey's choices pit effective wayfinding against more colorful, albeit sometimes less useful, station names. For most stations, it presents a fairly descriptive choice, such as "27th and Crystal" and a more creative option like "Potomac Yard Gateway." The survey also asks whether to name the key transfer station at the Crystal City Metro station "Metro Gateway" or "Crystal City Metro."
As for Alexandria's portion, the City received an $8.5 million design/build grant for the CCPY Transitway. It is anticipated that a design/build firm will be selected and under contract later this month.
The project will begin this fall with construction to be completed in Winter 2013. It is anticipated that a the bulk of Alexandria's portion will run along a dedicated center lane on Highway 1.
The survey is short and simple. If you think you might be likely to use the CCPY Transitway, you should make sure your voice is heard. Please share your preferences (or any suggestions for alternatives) in the comments.
This morning, WMATA's Customer Service and Operations Committee voted on a set of revised station names for several stops. The full WMATA Board voted to approve the recommendations this afternoon.
With the service changes to the Blue, Yellow, and Orange lines coming next year, signs have to be replaced anyway. Metro hopes to save time and money by renaming stations at once instead of making changes individually.
Additionally, Metro is moving to a new primary/secondary station naming system. This idea was one that came out of the Metro map contest we held earlier this year. Only station names longer than the 19-character policy maximum will get subtitles, minus a few grandfathered entries (see below).
The committee recommended the following station name changes:
- King St-Old Town
- Navy Yard-Ballpark
- NoMa-Gallaudet UNew York Ave
- Waterfront (deleting the now-closed "SEU" from the name)
For now, several stations are keeping their current names:
- Forest Glen (no Holy Cross Hospital, but with an H logo denoting a hospital)
- Franconia-Springfield (exempt from character limit)
- Georgia Ave-Petworth (exempt from character limit)
- Grosvenor-Strathmore (exempt from character limit)
- Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (no change)
- Smithsonian (no National Mall)
Many members of the Gallaudet community spoke at the public comment session in favor of keeping their university in the primary name. Several others spoke for Holy Cross and the Mall.
David Alpert testified in favor of shorter names and using subtitles for all universities and other points of interest. He also noted that while Holy Cross offficials and neighbors said putting the hospital's name on the station would encourage more patients to take transit, the hospital's own directions webpage doesn't mention Metro.
Additional changes include adding the universal "H" logo to the system map to show hospitals near Foggy Bottom, Forest Glen, and Medical Center.
If you listened to the WMATA Board discuss station names this morning, you could be forgiven if you concluded the board is made up of representatives from local universities, hospitals, and sports teams, and that those institutions, rather than riders and residents, pay for Metro.
That's because where institutions want to be on Metro station names, most members from those jurisdictions argued for adding them on, even when such an addition would violate the policy the board just adopted a few months ago. Many also argued for adding more content to the primary names, rather than subtitles.
The phrase "what's best for riders," sadly, came out of the mouths of very few members. Most notably, federal members Mort Downey and Marcel Acosta, and Fairfax member Jeff McKay (who is most in danger of losing his seat when Bob McDonnell's appointee Jim Dyke joins the board), were the ones who did emphasize what's best for riders.
What riders want is shorter names. Assistant General Manager for Communications Barbara Richardson said, "Our customers want one name. They want one, common name. They want these to be short."
Few people refer to "West Falls Church Vee Tea You Vee Eh" or "Van Ness You Dee See." Instead, they say they're going to West Falls Church or Van Ness. With a few exceptions like "Franconia-Springfield" and "Stadium-Armory," which really are truly compound names, other station names have a main portion, like "U Street" or "Grosvenor," and then sometimes additional points of interest.
Metro staff got that from their focus groups, and our surveys backed it up. People told Metro that long station names was their biggest complaint about the map. It's annoying and confusing for riders.
Richardson presented the staff recommendations after playing an amusing song, "The Metro Song." It parodies Johnny Cash's "I've been everywhere" to name 46 of the stations in the Metro system:
The staff suggest:
- Navy Yard Ballpark
- New York Ave Florida Ave-Gallaudet U
- Smithsonian (no National Mall)
- Waterfront (no Arena Stage)
- Forest Glen (no Holy Cross Hospital, but with an H logo denoting a hospital)
- King Street Old Town
Porter lamented that the county hadn't pushed for the change earlier, since it would have qualified under the previous policy, and suggested the board let Montgomery "grandfather" in the name. However, Fairfax's Jeff McKay pointed out that the reason they're changing the policy is because there have been problems with overly long station names in the past.
Porter noted that the hospital runs a shuttle to the station and there is Ride On service to the station. But in WMATA's focus groups, many members expressed a feeling that anything attached to a station name ought to be within a short walk, not a bus or car ride away.
DC Councilmember Muriel Bowser also wanted to grandfather a non-subtitle, Georgia Ave-Petworth. On this one, there's some good argument either way. I've heard many people call this "Georgia Ave Petworth" or "Georgia Petworth." Several commenters recommended actually making it Petworth, since Georgia Avenue is very long and Forest Glen, Wheaton, and Glenmont are also on Georgia Avenue.
Or, perhaps it could follow the pattern WMATA recommends for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and make the station Georgia Ave Petworth?
Bowser also took the position held by Gallaudet management and students for keeping that university in the primary name instead of a subtitle, endorsing NoMa-Gallaudet U New York Avenue. She pointed out that no other DC university is slated to become part of a subtitle. We've advocated instead for actually putting all universities and other points of interest in subtitles, and 83% of you agreed.
There seemed to be some interest on the board for this option. Mary Hynes of Arlington noted that they have many universities around their Metro stations, and that perhaps it's not feasible to expect to put all universities in primary names or even station names in general. McKay recommended holding off on any change concerning Gallaudet until this broader question is resolved.
Artis Hampshire-Cowen, though, seemed to be wearing her hat as an executive for Howard University rather than necessarily representing riders of Prince George's County. She argued against moving universities into subtitles, using Howard as a specific example.
Bowser also asked for the ballpark to be part of a main station name, Navy Yard-Ballpark, instead of the staff-recommended Navy Yard Ballpark.
The curly W seems completely dead, though that may be a very recent change. Last week, I'd heard that the Nationals only wanted to pay if the station could be named Navy Yard-, not just for "Ballpark." Today, however, DDOT told WMATA that DC would pay for any change, and Bowser told the board that DC expects the Nationals would cover those costs.
Under WMATA's policy, the jurisdiction has to pay for the station name itself. Another entity can reimburse the jurisdiction, but it has to guarantee the funding to WMATA. WMATA won't enter into a side agreement with a separate organization to collect the funds directly.
McKay asked what would happen if the ballpark gets a corporate name at some point. Would they want to, and would Metro feel any pressure to, rename the station? Members agreed that the staff should further flesh out the no corporate naming policy.
Alexandria mayor Bill Euille pushed for King Street-Old Town, their original request, instead of King Street Old Town, the staff recommendation (and one you overwhelmingly supported).
Marcel Acosta stood up for holding to the policy that the board had just adopted. He noted that the shorter names make things easier for customers, and "we need to temper" the impulse to accommodate local organization requests.
Alvin Nichols, alternate for Prince George's, asked about a request by Mount Rainier to add their name to West Hyattsville. However, Maryland has not officially requested this change, so it's not on the table at this time.
The board adjourned their discussion until next Thursday, November 3, where they will hold a public comment session followed immediately by a full board meeting to vote on changes. It's clear that some members are not paying much heed to rider concerns, or at least the comments of those who participated in the focus groups or filled out our survey (while others very much are).
Maybe if riders come to the public comment session, it will help those members start thinking about the interests of the riders instead of the interests of their universities, hospitals and sports teams.
749 people voted in our poll on station names. What did you conclude?
In short: Metro should use subtitles for long station names, including Grosvenor, and also short station names with universities in the name. Forest Glen and Waterfront shouldn't gain anything else, while Navy Yard should add Ballpark as a subtitle and King Street add Old Town.
New York Avenue versus NoMa had no clear consensus, and you were split 50-50 on whether Smithsonian should get a subtitle added for the National Mall.
Subtitles had strong support across the board. WMATA staff are recommending subtitles for 12 long station names; 93% of respondents agreed. They left out Grosvenor, partly at the request of Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, but 80% of respondents thought that name should also get a subtitle.
8 stations have shorter names including universities. Staff are not yet recommending subtitles for those, but 83% of respondents felt those stations should also use subtitles.
Station renaming proposals
Respondents overwhelmingly agreed with the WMATA staff recommendations on King Street, to add a subtitle, and Forest Glen, to leave the name alone.
|King Street-Old Town||155||21%|
Holy Cross Hospital
|Forest Glen-Holy Cross Hospital||41||6%|
There was also strong, but less unequivocal, support for the staff recommendations of leaving Waterfront with no subtitle and adding Ballpark as a subtitle on Navy Yard.
Respondents split almost exactly 50-50 on whether to add "The National Mall" as a subtitle on Smithsonian, or to leave the name as is. Staff recommended leaving the name; among other reasons, the Mall is near several stations, and Metro often tries to persuade riders to use those other stations during special events.
What about New York Avenue or NoMa? There was not a clear winner, but some useful statistics:
|New York Ave|
Florida Ave-Gallaudet U
|New York Ave-Florida Ave-Gallaudet U||30||4%|
|New York Ave-NoMa|
|Total with NY Ave||465||64%|
|Total with NoMa||383||53%|
|Total with Gallaudet in subtitle||635||87%|
It might have been better to run this one as an instant runoff vote. The people who picked New York Ave-NoMa [Gallaudet U] clearly liked the New York Ave and NoMa names. But would they rather have just New York Ave and drop NoMa, or keep just NoMa? Is that a reasonable compromise (which is what DDOT thought) or not popular enough (which is what WMATA staff concluded)?
New York Ave seems somewhat more popular than NoMa, though not overwhelmingly so. For many respondents, apparently, the unfamiliarity of or unease with NoMa as a name edged out the fact that the station is really quite misnamed, being actually not so near New York Avenue.
The WMATA Board will discuss the issue today. It appears they would generally do well to accept the staff recommendations, except in one area: they should go farther in using subtitles, not just for the 12 names staff suggest but for all points of interest, like universities and performing arts centers.
It's also fairer this way. Gallaudet students are understandably unhappy their school is one of only 3 to get moved to a subtitle. Riders clearly prefer the subtitles over the alternative, but the board could at least treat all universities equally by moving them all to subtitles.