Photo by tracktwentynine on Flickr.

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.

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.

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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. He’s a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer.