30 April 2016

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.

Source: http://avecunaccent.canalblog.com/archives/2011/10/22/22388112.html

Source: http://subwaynut.com/california/bart/pleasant_hill/p3.php

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.