Photo by Julie Lyn on Flickr.

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

Montgomery County alternate member Kathy Porter defended the county’s request to add Holy Cross Hospital, or at least “Holy Cross” along with an H symbol, to Forest Glen.

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-Curly W, 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.