Metro Station Name Drama

David Alpert has a nice take down of many of the poorly conceived Metro station renames that have been proposed. He cites the Navy Yard-"W" rename as an especially egregious example, but many of the others he mentions are nearly as frustrating.

(from Mr. T in DC on Flickr)

Ultimately, the questions that must be answered with regard to these renames are: who benefits? and why? The renamers would argue that it benefits anyone (though disproportionately visitors) who want to travel to various destinations in DC via Metro and aren't familiar with the layout of the city.

At first glance, renaming "Navy Yard" to "Navy Yard-Ballpark" seems like a fine idea, since it is the station that most Nationals fans use to get to games. I say "most" because some do arrive by exiting at Capitol South and walking down New Jersey Avenue. In fact, for anyone coming in on the Orange or Blue lines, Capitol South is often a better place to exit the system.

Similarly, there are other destinations that people often make unnecessary transfer to reach, as I wrote about a few months ago. Adding "ballpark" to the Navy Yard station name may seem harmless at first, but what it does is to announce that it is the one and only station to use if you want to get to a game.

Metro's out-of-scale map means that riders are especially susceptible to sloppily named stations. People don't realize, for example, how close Dupont Circle is to Farragut West, or how close Metro Center is to Gallery Place, so they often wind up making unnecessary transfers to get where they're going. How many tourists have transferred to a blue or orange line train so that they could use the "Smithsonian" station, when a handful of other stations would have gotten them to the national mall?

Alpert notes that in New York City, there are five subway stations called "23rd Street" rather than the neighborhoods that contain them. There's a good reason for this. These stations are close together, so if you're traveling anywhere in the vicinity of 23rd Street, you might as well take whatever line you're closest to, exit at the respective 23rd Street station, and walk to your final destination.

If, on the other hand, each of those five stations were named after a unique neighborhood, someone traveling to Chelsea might think they need to make an unnecessary transfer so they can eventually arrive at the "Chelsea" station, even though the "Flatiron District" station and the "Gramercy Park" stations might get them there with less hassle.

Right now, I live about a quarter mile from the U Street station, and a little more than half a mile from the Dupont Circle station. Depending on where I'm going, it might make more sense to walk a greater distance, and get on a Red Line train, rather than the shorter distance to Green or Yellow.

Anyone who's familiar with the Metro system knows these little tricks, but someone who's not might naively take a less convenient route. It might be because the out-of-scale map makes it difficult for them to realize where they are, or, in light of station naming, because they don't realize there is more than a single station that will get them where they need to go. And isn't it those people who these new station names are supposedly helping?


    Great point.