Photo by iwantamonkey on Flickr.

Photo by iwantamonkey on Flickr.

DDOT has formally asked WMATA to change the names of 4 Metrorail stations in the District. It also recommended, but later withdrew, a 5th:

Current nameProposed name
Waterfront - SEUWaterfront - Arena Stage
Navy YardNavy Yard - Ballpark
New York Ave. - Florida Ave. - Gallaudet U.New York Ave. - NoMa
Gallaudet University
SmithsonianSmithsonian
The National Mall
Foggy Bottom - GWUFoggy Bottom - GWU
Kennedy Center


Thankfully, the idea of including a “curly W” logo on Navy Yard has been sent to the dustbin where it belongs. But for better or worse, most of these still violate WMATA’s approved policy limiting name length.

Under the process laid out by WMATA for station name changes, the jurisdiction containing that station needs to first request a name change and

identify someone willing

itself be willing to pay for the cost of changing signs, pylons and more. The WMATA Board then approves or disapproves each proposal.

Various organizations including Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and nonprofits have asked DDOT for station renames. The NoMA BID wanted its name on the station in its area, for example. The National Park Service and the Trust for the National Mall requested the name change for Smithsonian.

The Golden Triangle BID also asked to add its name to one of the Farragut stations, and Capitol Riverfront wanted to be on Navy Yard, though DDOT didn’t advance those requests. ANC Commissioner Kent Boese has been pushing to change Georgia Ave-Petworth to Georgia Ave-Petworth/Park View or Petworth-Park View.

Of the proposals DDOT accepted, only “Navy Yard-Ballpark” conforms to WMATA’s naming policy, which calls for a maximum of 19 characters including subtitles. As Matt Johnson wrote, subtitles should not be an excuse to add more to names.

DDOT has withdrawn adding Kennedy Center to the Foggy Bottom stop since there was no organization willing to front the $100,000 or greater cost of changing a name. That must mean the Kennedy Center couldn’t or didn’t want to pay for the change. If that’s not getting added, is it appropriate to add Arena Stage? Was it appropriate to add Strathmore, currently the only private non-educational organization on a station name?

The important principle is not to let station names become “the Yellow Pages,” as one WMATA Board member put it, advertising nearby organizations and attractions. The purpose of a station is to help people find their way around the system, not to promote things to do.

But if Kennedy Center is not going on and Arena Stage might be inappropriate, is it right to add Ballpark? To me, it does seem appropriate somehow, but should we be promoting organized sports (owned by a for-profit entity that’s acted fairly rapaciously toward the District) and not a nonprofit and donor-funded arts organization that’s contributed a great deal to its neighborhood?

(Disclosure: I am a member of the board of the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, which isn’t part of a station name, and may in some ways compete with other theaters or with other entertainment such as baseball.)


“New York Avenue” Metro. Image from StationMasters.

Concerning the station near Gallaudet, I find it baffling that anyone wants to keep New York Avenue on the name. The station is not on New York Avenue. No entrance to the station is on New York Avenue. The platform stretches from Florida Avenue, well south of New York Avenue, to M Street NE, even farther south.

New York Avenue also runs very close to McPherson Square and Metro Center, and tourists in downtown hotels do get confused and take Metro to this station by mistake. “NoMA-Gallaudet U” would be short and appropriate.

As for Smithsonian, does anyone not know how to get to the Mall? This proposal seems unnecessary. Additionally, several stations, not just the Smithsonian stop, serve the Mall. Naming one stop ignores the usability of other nearby stations, like L’Enfant Plaza.

Already, many tourists use Smithsonian to get to Smithsonian museums when other stations would work better, such as L’Enfant for Air and Space. When major events come to the Mall, Smithsonian can face severe overcrowding, and Metro tries to encourage visitors to use other nearby stations. Adding National Mall could exacerbate these problems, leading visitors to use Smithsonian to get to rallies at the Capitol end of the Mall when they really should be getting off at Federal Center SW or Judiciary Square.

Finally, each name is something of a hodgepodge that contains 2 elements both in the primary name, or has a subtitle. I continue to believe WMATA missed a big opportunity by not moving into the subtitles all pieces of names after dashes or slashes. Why should “West Falls Church-VT/UVA” become “West Falls Church” with a subtitle, but “Brookland-CUA” not become “Brookland” with a subtitle of “CUA”?

If the new policy is to use subtitles, then all stations with multiple pieces in their names should use the subtitles for all but the first piece. In this case, Navy Yard-Ballpark could be an acceptable name, but Navy Yard with a subtitle of Ballpark is even more appropriate; if Arena Stage is indeed added to the nearby station, it should likewise be in the subtitle to avoid making the name on pylons and signs, and spoken by conductors, even longer and more confusing to riders.

If you want to convey opinions to the WMATA Board about these changes, you can email boardofdirectors@wmata.com.

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David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle.