Naming a train station should not be writing a novel

I've lived in a number of cities with subway or metro systems. Stations most often have a basic name that fits one of the following criteria where the station is:
  • neighborhood name
  • significant nearby landmark or regional facility
  • cross streets. 
When I lived in Paris, my station was Breguet Sabin because rue Breguet and rue Sabin met at the metro station entrance. However, sometimes, the station name gets a bit long winded, especially when it includes very long names or more than two street or place names. In the past 20 years, BART has been changing a few station names into "novel" names. Let's take a look at some station names some "proposed" #novelstationnames .

When I lived in New York City, my stop was named 116th St/Columbia University. The stop was located at the intersection of 116th St and Broadway and was immediately adjacent to the university, which is a major destination for students, faculty, staff, as well as folks visiting the campus on business. Broadway wasn't part of the name because the 1-Line follows Broadway with many stops on it. It wouldn't be very helpful if every stop included Broadway in the name. (Imagine saying, I'll meet you at the 72 St-Broadway station, then we can take it to the meeting at 86th St-Broadway station, then go to a have lunch at a place near the 125th St-Broadway station.



Finally, in my 14 years in San Francisco, I've used almost every station to get to and from for work or home.So I know the stations and neighborhoods pretty well. Powell St station is at Powell St. Makes sense. However it is near a major destination, Union Square, and south of Market, there is no Powell St station. Should it really be called Powell St/5th St, or Fifth St/Powell or Powell St/5th St/Union Square/Moscone... which it seems would be what BART would name it if they created the station today.

In all seriousness, I think we should have short station names that are easy to say, and easy to read, yet help a new traveler get their bearings of where the station is. I think the New York City Subway has it best when they name a station the cross street (e.g. Eighth Street), but has a secondary name in smaller font on the station walls. This secondary name, (e.g. New York City) should not show up in the station map, but it should show up in a station web site. Below are a few examples for the Bay Area.

Powell St
Union Square
Downtown Berkeley
University of California

66th St Station with secondary name "Lincoln Center". Source: Wikipedia
Below are a few "suggestions" of some "informative" "novel" station names that might be confused with an epic poem, or a brochure for the latest suburban sprawl neighborhood like the The Palms at East Saint Francis Wood. Some comments are interspersed in the names

East Bay - Coastal
Richmond  (8 characters)
Richmond Civic Center/Amtrak Intermodal (39 characters). Could also be Richmond / MacDonald

El Cerrito Del Norte  (20 characters)

already a long name, but understandable that with two El Cerrito stations they need to be distinguished. How about - El Cerrito Cutting San Pablo (28 characters)

El Cerrito Plaza  (16 characters)
El Cerrito Plaza/Albany Hill (28 characters)

North Berkeley  (14 characters)
Ironically North Berkeley station is really in Central Berkeley. Maybe a few more compass points in the name will help the epic quality of this suburban underground station built in a streetcar suburb.
North Berkeley/South Albany/Westbrae (36 characters)

A full list of all BART station alternative names is after the break.

Downtown Berkeley  (17 characters)
Originally titled "Berkeley" when BART opened. The station was renamed "Downtown Berkeley in the 1990s I believe. Not sure if this was pushed by downtown business boosters, or based on complaints that people got off at the North Berkeley station accidentally due to confusion between North Berkeley and simply "Berkeley".
UC Berkeley is so significant and populous, yet it is ignored in the name.
Downtown Berkeley / University of California (44 characters)

Ashby  (5 characters)
There's no love for cross streets at this station. How about Ashby/Adeline or better yet Ashby/Ed Roberts Center at Bushrod (34 characters)

MacArthur  (9 characters)
MacArthur/40th Street (21 characters)

19th St Oakland  (15 characters)
19th St / Uptown Oakland (24 characters)

12th St Oakland City Center  (27 characters)
The original long name station name. In fact it seems to have done a switcharoo on the order of its name, similar to West Oakland.  No need to enhance this long name... unless a new high rise goes up called "of the East Bay"
12th St Oakland Center of the East Bay (38 characters)
Source: Jeremiah Cox,
Snapshot of original BART map including "Oakland West" station name. Source: Alain Kornhauser, Operations Research & Financial Engineering, Princeton University
West Oakland  (12 characters)
Originally opened as Oakland West. Rumor is that giving it this name was more "palatable" and was more "optimistic". However, I don't have any proof of why the neighborhood of West Oakland got the inverted name.
West Oakland / Port of Oakland (30 characters)

Lake Merritt  (12 characters)
Lake Merritt/Chinatown/too far from Eastlake (44 characters)

Fruitvale  (9 characters)
Fruitvale/Alameda Island East (29 characters)

Coliseum (8 characters)
The station formerly known as Coliseum/Oakland Airport (54 characters)

San Leandro (11 characters)
Why should Downtown Berkeley be the only "Downtown". Other stops are in a downtown like Richmond, Hayward, the future Fremont Downtown (more on that below), sort of in Walnut Creek, and definitely in Concord and Millbrae.
Downtown San Leandro (20 characters)

Bay Fair  (8 characters)
Bay Fair Mall/Bayfair Center/FairBay Plaza at the crossings with no need for name consistency charm (99 characters)

Hayward  (7 characters)
Downtown Hayward that's not Amtrak Hayward (42 characters)

South Hayward  (13 characters)
South Hayward/Tennyson (22 characters)

Union City  (10 characters)
Union City future Intermodal Station (36 characters)

Fremont (7 characters)
Fremont is a city incorporated from combining several developments and small towns. It never had a downtown - not even when BART started service in the 1970s. Now the city is ambitiously attempting to create a Downtown from scratch from the parking lots near the BART station and the adjacent hospital.
(Downtown) Fremont (18 characters)

Warm Springs (12 characters)
BART recently announced that this soon to open station would be officially called "Warm Springs/South Fremont". I didn't even know that South Fremont was a term before this. I should have known that BART would not be able to name a station without a slash in it. Watch out Milpitas and Berryessa.
Warm Spring / South Fremont / Cold Winter / North Milpitas (59 characters)

Milpitas  (8 characters)
Based on the "need" to have multiple names in station names, Milpitas will likely become "Milpitas/Great Mall", which would be fantastic so that folks taking the VTA light rail would get off at the Great Mall/Main station thinking they would transfer to BART, but no, that's at the Montague Station. My preference is for a more poetic name that rolls off the tongue that has a geographic reference to it. All stations should have at least one of these words in them: Center, Downtown, Plaza, North, South, East or West.
South Milpitas at the Great Mall (of the Bay Area) (50 characters)
Berryessa  (9 characters)
Berryessa Food Market (21 characters)

San Francisco & Peninsula Lines

Embarcadero  (11 characters)
Seeing that 12th Oakland City Center was named after a shopping center that came about through redevelopment, why shouldn't the Embarcadero get the same treatment? We need more stations adding "Center" into their names.
Embarcadero Center/Ferry Building (33 characters)

Montgomery St  (13 characters)
Most folks I know drop the "Street" part of this station name. Bus since we're talking about streets, and station names providing a sense of location, this station is actually at Montgomery and  New Montgomery. You see where I'm going with this.
New Montgomery St/Montgomery St/Transbay Transit Center (55 characters)

Powell St  (9 characters)
There's a mall there. Let's make sure its name is in the title. The Union Square addition would help a lot of tourists taking the train in from the airport and calm their worries of whether or not their arriving at the right station. Good thing the station wayfinding signs point them to Union Square now.
Powell St/Union Square/San Francisco Centre (43 characters)

Civic Center/UN Plaza  (21 characters)
Originally simply called Civic Center. When I was a kid and visited San Francisco I thought this must be an exciting place. It was the CENTER or the city! And it's where the great leaders of the city made decisions.
UN Plaza, a place I'm glad exists, at least in name, is not a significant destination in my eyes. However, it does have a farmer's Market. Adding UN Plaza to the station name added little wayfinding benefit and only lengthened the name when it didn't need to be.
Civic Center/UN Plaza/Tenderloin (32 characters)

16th St Mission  (15 characters)
Where you can get your "mission" on.
16th St Mission/Mission Dolores/Mission Bay (43 characters)

24th St Mission  (15 characters)
24th St Mission/Calle 24/Noe Valley/LaLengua (45 characters)

Glen Park  (9 characters)
Glen Park/Sunnyside/Diamond Heights (35 characters)

Balboa Park  (11 characters)
Geneva Ocean/Balboa Park/City College (37 characters)

Daly City  (9 characters)
Daly City/Westlake/Your Muni Fast Pass doesn't work here (56 characters)

Colma  (5 characters)
Colma/South Daly City (21 characters)

South San Francisco  (19 characters)
South San Francisco BART Station at Kaiser (42 characters)

San Bruno  (9 characters)
San Bruno BART Station at the loading dock of Tanforan, and don't confuse it with San Bruno Caltrain (100 characters)

San Francisco International Airport  (35 characters)
An understandably long name - however the platform message signs luckily only call the station SFO Airport. With that said, let's give the station name a little flair.
San Francisco Airport in the International Terminal with a third ghost track (76 characters)

SFO's official name makes it the longest official station name with 35 characters. Source: 1122xfilthy via Tumblr
Millbrae  (8 characters)
Millbrae - Hey this is the way to Caltrain  (42 characters)

Inland East Bay
Rockridge  (9 characters)
Rockridge/Elmwood (17 characters)

Orinda  (6 characters)
Orinda/JFK University/not centered on Moraga Way (48 characters)

Lafayette  (9 characters)
Lafayette - a rural place (25 characters)

Walnut Creek  (12 characters)
Downtown Adjacent Walnut Creek /Danville (40 characters)

Pleasant Hill/Contra Costa Centre  (33 characters)
No real need for change here. This was the station name that made me throw up my arms and say, "Seriously! you need to rename this from a pleasant 13 characters to a 30+ character name?
Pleasant Hill/Contra Costa Centre (33 characters)
At 33 characters in length, including spaces, Pleasant Hill / Contra Costa Center station is the second longest station name in the BART system. Only a meek 13 characters before the "Centre" addition. Source: Instagram Squinte6

Concord  (7 characters)
After exasperation with Pleasant Hill, I have no energy to rename this station. I still call the yellow line the Concord line because it was the original end of the line.
Concord (7 characters)

North Concord/Martinez  (22 characters)
The station is 8 miles from Downtown Martinez and 4 miles to the closest City of Martinez land. I have no idea how station names are created, but this seems that the BART board was doing backflips to show Martinez that it cared, or the City of Martinez tricked BART into thinking the station was at the doorstep of their city.
Seeing that 4-8 miles is the threshold for naming "nearby" destinations in a station name, let's include them all.
North Concord/Clyde/Martinez/Vine Hill/Concord/Pleasant Hill/Clayton (NoCoClyMaV ConPHClay for short) (68 characters)

Pittsburg/Bay Point  (19 characters)
Pittsburg/Bay Point/Shore Acres (31 characters)

Castro Valley  (13 characters)
Castro Valley/Redwood Rd (24 characters)

West Dublin/Pleasanton  (23 characters)
Let's drop the confusion between the two Dublin/Pleasanton stations. Call the newer more westerly station a totally different name. Because there seems to be a bit of shopping center love in BART station names (think Bay Fair, Oakland City Center, El Cerrito Plaza), let's do it here.
Stoneridge Center (17 characters)

Dublin/Pleasanton  (18 characters)
This is the longest justafiable name for a station. Located on the city boundary - you walk north of the station you're in Dublin. You walk south of the station you're in Pleasanton.
Dublin/Pleasanton (18 characters)


  1. Well, there are some counterarguments....

    1) Pleasant Hill -- This station is not located in the city of Pleasant Hill, but in a neighboring unincorporated community, which the Census Bureau calls "Contra Costa Centre". This is confusing for people who think the station is in the city of Pleasant Hill. Ideally (a) it wouldn't have been called Pleasant Hill in the first place and (b) Contra Costa Centre would have a less dumb name (with its deliberate xenospelling) but...

    Also having "Opposite Coast Center" be so far inland is pretty odd, at least to me. I'm sure it made sense in 1854 but I think it would have been better not to create Alameda County.

    2) Having one station called "Civic Center" and another one called "Oakland City Center" is not ideal. Again, it would have been better if the former had always been "UN Plaza", but it wasn't. In general I think relatively small things like plazas are better name sources than long streets or large districts, which could be misleading to people (Eastmont is at MacArthur and 73rd Ave -- the best station must be MacArthur, right?) Ogawa Plaza didn't exist when 12th St. - Oakland City Center was named, but I think that would be the best name if it were a new station.

    3) In general I think names like "Pittsburg / Bay Point" and "Dublin / Pleasanton" probably indicate deeper problems with the stations -- if it's right at the edge between two different communities, maybe it's a bad place to put a station in the first place. (In other words, it's bad to put one in the middle of a freeway.) Oh well.

    I do agree about Stoneridge (although since that's only in Pleasanton, it would leave the Dubliners out of the name, which is probably why it wasn't chosen). And North Concord/Martinez is crazy. My recollection is that "Martinez" was a later addition as well.

  2. Making signs of long names, either in business or for place, has always been very tricky. Although, it has rang of words to include styles but still giving style in long name really matters. I found Signs NY best yet for this kind of services.

  3. Oakland's could certainly use some updating, though I'd choose differently:

    - West Oakland (Mandela Blvd, 7th St)
    - Downtown Oakland (12th St, Chinatown) ... though Oakland City Center ain't bad
    - Uptown Oakland (19th St, Telegraph)
    - MacArthur (Temescal)
    - Rockridge (College Ave)
    - Oak St (Chinatown, OMCA, Laney College) ... this station has nothing to do with Lake Merritt - 19th St BART is closer
    - Fruitvale (International Blvd)

  4. currently: Concord

    South Concord
    Concord - Todos Santos Plaza
    Concord - Clayton Road
    Downtowne Concorde Centre Transitte Stoppe
    You Don't Have to Go Home But You Can't Stay in Concord
    Grant Street Bus Stop


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