Image by Jim Linwood licensed under Creative Commons.

Last year, Greater Greater Washington launched MetroGreater, a contest that allowed readers to suggest ideas they thought would improve Metro. The winner was an idea for compass roses at Metro station entrances, and Metro is now moving forward with installing them. Look for compass roses at four test stations downtown and near the Mall just in time for Cherry Blossom season.

More than 1,300 submissions for the MetroGreater contest came in, and those were narrowed to 76 semifinalists, and then eventually one winner. All eligible ideas had to be something that Metro could implement within six months and for no more than $100,000. Ideas that could serve the largest number of WMATA customers also received higher priority.

The winning proposal was Robert B.'s idea of placing compass roses at station entrances. After exiting an underground Metro station, many people can find themselves disoriented and unsure about which direction to go to reach their destination. Robert felt placing decals at the top of escalators indicating the cardinal directions and/or major cross streets could help people find their way, and both the panel of judges and WMATA agreed.

I reached out to Lynn Bowersox of Metro's communications team for an update on how installation of the compass roses is coming along. She explained that Metro is working to have an initial pilot in place by late March in time for the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival (a date which would be slightly later than the original six month goal of March 1st).

The Smithsonian Metro station during the Cherry Blossom Festival. WMATA hopes compass roses will help with crowds like these. Image by Via Tsuji licensed under Creative Commons.

The compass rose decals will be placed directly onto the sidewalk at station entrances, and their design will be loosely based on a similar application in New York. Metro is using four stations as test locations: Gallery Place, Metro Center, Smithsonian, and Union Station. Each of these locations serves a large number of passengers, and installing compass roses doesn't require permission from adjacent property owners.

Robert, who came up with the idea, said that he met with a group of consultants from Metro back in November to discuss his vision and the problems he hoped it would solve.

"I'm glad to see Metro going with putting the compass roses outside of station rather than on escalators," Robert said. "It also seems like a good goal to time the release with the Cherry Blossom Festival."

"I hope that after the first four stations," he added, "Metro looks at Farragut North and Farragut West, where a GGWash reader noted that multiple 17th Street entrances make orienting oneself particularly difficult."

One thing Robert also said was that a big priority was balancing simplicity with potential extra features. Personally, I hope WMATA is not overcomplicating the idea or trying to make the decals say too much.

The compass roses will be made of laminated vinyl and will be skid resistant. Materials and design cost is estimated to be around $10,000 (not including installation) for this phase of the project, and installing them everywhere shouldn't take the project over its overall budget.

The test phase will last through 2017, with customer feedback taken through surveys and Metro's Amplify online community. Future applications of the decals will incorporate feedback taken during the test period. 

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Travis Maiers spent most of his life in South Florida before moving to the Washington region in 2009. He has a degree in International Studies from American University and works at a DC non-profit focused on international economic policy. He currently resides in the Forest Hills neighborhood of DC and enjoys learning about all things related to transportation and urban planning.