Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

As DDOT looks to add new routes to the Circulator bus network, the agency should devise a simple and catchy naming system to designate each route.

Metrorail uses colors. Metrobus and suburban bus systems use simple numbers or letter-number combinations (42, E6, 38B, etc.). Existing Circulator routes, on the other hand, are only known by their endpoints, like Georgetown-Union Station or Dupont-Georgetown-Rosslyn.

If any of these routes are extended to other destinations, or new routes share termini with existing ones, knowing which bus is the right one will quickly become confusing for riders. It’s already cumbersome to talk about each route, and along M Street in Georgetown, riders often board the wrong bus.

Current maps, and the NextBus system, use a different color for each Circulator. But if people start referring to the Union Station-Georgetown Circulator as the Yellow Route, it may become confused with Metro’s Yellow Line, which follows a different path.

Boulder, Colorado solves this problem with cute names like the “Dash” and the “Jump.” DDOT should also devise a unique naming scheme. Here are some possibilities:

Single letters: No other transit system in the region uses single letters to designate routes; all the local bus systems other than Metrobus seem to use just numbers. Circulators could simply be lettered in order starting with A, omitting I and O to avoid confusion with the numbers.

Routes could be known as “Circ-A,” “Circ-B,” etc. Drawback: These don’t give any line much distinctiveness, or create a strong mental association between a line and a letter. And would there be confusion between the a “D” route and the D series of Metrobuses (D2, D6, etc.)?

Famous people associated with DC: How about taking the Duke Ellington and transferring to the Alex Ovekchin? Drawback: Streets, bridges, neighborhoods, parks, and other elements of the city’s infrastructure already bear these names. But if, for example, the Duke Ellington route crosses the Duke Ellington Bridge, then the name would make sense.

Trees or flowers: DC already has streets with plant names (the fourth alphabet in the District’s northern tip), but there are many that aren’t used in the city. Short names would be ideal for simplicity. Would you like to ride the Oak, Elm, Ash, or Birch Circulator?

Federal agencies: Name each route after a federal agency, preferably one on the given line. The Union Station-Navy Yard bus could become the DOT Line; the Georgetown-Union Station bus (since it passes through Foggy Bottom) could be the State (Department) Line. Drawback: agency names, for the most part, lack a certain pizazz.

Short verbs, a la Boulder: How about the Georgetown Jumper, or the 14th Street Flyer? Drawback: too silly for DC?


What naming schemes do you like? What would you add?

Malcolm Kenton lives in the DC’s NoMa neighborhood. Hailing from Greensboro, NC and a graduate of Guilford College, he is a passionate advocate for world-class passenger rail and other forms of sustainable transportation and for incorporating nature and low-impact design into the urban fabric. The views he expresses on GGWash are his own.