Kenmore P&R, by Oran

After recently working on a transit mapping project, a lot of which was inspired by transit maps worldwide, I realized that much of the nomenclature we use for transit in North American cities tends to be either misleading or downright inappropriate.  Though most of the implications are pretty subtle, the terminology we use can reveal a lot about the sadder limitations of our transit system.  Jarrett Walker, author of Human Transit, often rails against a lot of the transit vocabulary we use in North America and even has an entire category dedicated to unhelpful words.

One term I’m not crazy about is ‘transfer station’.  I know Jarrett has a bone to pick with this kind of nomenclature as well, mostly because of its grammatical connotations.  I won’t get into the nitty-gritty like he does, but I will highlight some of the basic implications that our transit literature has on rider behavior.  Instead of using “transfer stations,” many transit agencies outside of the US, like Transport for London (PDF), refer to these kinds of stations as “interchange stations.”  More below the jump.

Interchange essentially means to ‘change between’ or ‘change to and from.’  That would imply that you can connect easily between all services available at a truly synergistic multi-modal station.  A transfer, on the other hand, implies that you can ‘transfer toor ‘transfer from‘ services, but not both. It gives the impression that it’s easier to switch from one mode to another, but not necessarily vice versa.  If you want a full discourse on the subject, then I’d recommend you read Jarrett’s post in its entirety.

What disappoints me the most, by far, is the use of the term “park and ride.”  Before my foray into transit advocacy, I used to think park and rides were a great thing, particularly for the suburban commuter.  Drive to your local P&R, take the bus– save gas, save parking, save money.  But aside from the fact that parking lots/garages are just bad land use in themselves, simply using a term like “park and ride” carries fairly transit-unfriendly connotations.  The three main problems I see:

1) The most obvious one is that “park and rides” assume car ownership, hence implying you must have a car to drive and park, and only then can you ride the bus/train.  From a branding perspective, it’s an incredibly nefarious little mechanism that is biased towards car owners and implies that facilities for connecting cyclists or pedestrians are either non-existent or very limited.  Often times that’s not the case, and we end up seeing unused bike racks and/or very few pedestrians around park and rides.

2) The second problem is a subset of the first– “park and rides” encourage only commute trips.  The broader idea is that you probably need a car because 1) you live too far away to walk/bike, or 2) you’d never take transit for non-work trips anyway because service is  much shoddier outside of peak hours.  The “park and ride’s” implication of car ownership is that transit is not good enough for all other non-work trips you might make.  While I don’t have empirical evidence for this, I am prepared to bet that transit centers without parking have a much more even ratio of work to non-work trips than park and rides do.

3) The third problem with the term “park and ride” is that if I am encouraged to drive to one only for work trips, then it can be assumed that the area around the “park and ride” probably does not support vibrant all-day pedestrian-friendly land uses, especially with the majority of P&R commuters driving in in the AM and driving out in the PM.  Instead, we typically expect “park and rides” to be situated among low-density developments, tracts, office parks, strip malls, etc.  In general, transit centers that have parking but aren’t expressly called “park and rides” tend to feature more “exciting” land uses, if you will, despite the fair amount of nearby parking.  Northgate and Renton Transit Centers come to mind.

While we obviously cannot fully eliminate park and rides, it’s more appropriate and cost-effective to relabel park-and-rides as transit centers with [P] parking icons that would indicating the availability of parking.  Jarrett actually does not like the term “transit center” but I would argue that the implications there are subtle enough as to not give a significantly misleading impression of land uses or rider behavior.  At any rate, it’s leaps and bounds better than using “park and ride.”

As I’ve argued before, branding and marketing make up some of most important tools at the disposable of transit agencies.  In lieu of costly service hours, small cheap fixes like these that can potentially attract ridership and encourage better land uses & behaviors are always a plus.

35 Replies to “Misleading Transit Nomenclature”

  1. You are correct that “Park & Ride” is an unsubtle presumption of utility for cars. I like the term Transit Center because it is neutral. But I’ve also thought that it should refer to a multi-modal or interline transfer point which I guess a P&R would be.

    Out east they have “Kiss & Rides” which suggest parking isn’t the purpose of those facilities.

    1. “Kiss & Ride” actually means something different: it’s the place where cars can drop off riders. The DC Metro has both K&Rs and P&Rs, and they’re different concepts.

    2. I think “park and ride” provides the right connotations when you’re trying to collect genuinely rural passengers who are visiting a dense city or town. And where you’re putting the park-and-ride, basically, on the greenbelt boundary.

      Probably that’s not too common.

  2. Regardless, who were the geniuses who named the South Federal Way P & R? How many times has someone confused it with the Federal Way P & R?

    1. Speaking of confusing name, just this morning I experienced something similar: While waiting for the 556 at Issaquah TC, a guy got off an eastbound 554 and started wandering around asking, “hey, is this ‘Issaquah Park & Ride’?” I explained, “no, this is Issaquah Transit Center, but there’s also an Issaquah Highlands Park & Ride across town.” Obviously the guy was a) in the wrong place and b) extremely excitable, because he immediately started yelling and swearing about being in the wrong bleeping place and how he’d have to pay the bleeping bus fare again, bleepbleepit, because ST doesn’t offer bleeping transfers anymore. Perhaps adding to his confusion is that Issy TC was called Issaquah P&R prior to construction of the garage.

      Addressing Martin’s point 3), Issy TC has a rather unfortunate name because, except for Tibbetts Park, there really aren’t any interesting destinations within easy walking distance. Also, I’ve always wondered why Eastgate is a “P&R” instead of a “TC” because so many more routes serve that location than, by comparison, Issy TC.

      1. Another fun-filled version of this comes from “Overlake P&R”. Usually when people ask for this they mean Overlake Transit center but sometimes they don’t and that makes for an interesting customer interaction if you don’t clarify up front.

    2. At least there’s no longer both a Northgate Transit Center AND a Northgate P&R six blocks north of it (it’s been bulldozed for a park). That caused all kinds of confusion. Most people usually said “Northgate P&R” when they meant the transit center.

    3. I don’t think there’s much confusion on FW P&R vs South FW P&R. South is served by one route–196–a peak-only, peak direction commuter route. Route 182 provides indirect service. The FW P&R is served by two routes–177, also a peak-only, peak direction route, and (today and tomorrow) route 174. Routes 182 and 903, and PT routes 402, 500, and 501 provide indirect service.

      The number of routes used to be a lot more when much of the Federal Way service extended further south and before FWTC was built.
      Now I’m wondering what’s going to happen to the Federal Way P&R. I suppose it’ll sit just as empty as it ever was on weekends, with a few dozen cars in it on weekdays.

  3. You’re spot on about “Park & Ride.” I’m in the process of relocating to Seattle, and the term immediately gave me concern that bicycle parking would be either non-existent or an afterthought in areas close to P&R. Bike racks are actually UNDERUSED?

    It’s also worth noting that in some locations the misnomer encourages driving where it shouldn’t be encouraged. Most of the apartments I’ve seen listed in Kenmore, for example, are within walking distance of the P&R (Not to mention that with Burke-Gilman trail across the street, it’s a perfect location for bicycle transfers).

  4. It seems to me that most park and rides function in exactly the way their name would suggest. I think it would be dishonest to simply re-brand them without redesigning them. Car-oriented transit is exactly what it is.

  5. I would say, that many of our existing P&Rs are exactly that, and no amount of wishing will make them less so, for example, the South Everett Freeway Station is entirely contained between the North & South lanes of I-5.

    While some services might be useful, and might even be things that people would take a bus to get to, the point of Park and Rides, I’d say, is to help define the boundaries of transit service by providing a place for people to switch transportation modes: beyond this point, you’ll probably want to drive. This is actually a good thing, as it lets you focus improvements to the reliability and frequency of a core area and accept that it’s infeasible to provide universal coverage and still maintain reasonable service quality.

    That said, on the mode-switch tack, all P&Rs should have secure bike parking, and zip-car spots. Some form of long-term parking could also be useful: when I drive to a city that I plan to get around in either on foot or via transit, I look for a place to ditch my car as far outside the city as possible; and, when house-hunting in Seattle a couple of years ago, I looked into getting a place without parking, and keeping my car in a lot a bus/train ride away.

    1. “That said, on the mode-switch tack, all P&Rs should have secure bike parking, and zip-car spots”

      Here, here. I don’t remember the last time I took a car to the South Bellevue Park & Ride since I’ve acquired a bike locker. If Zipcar would add a car there, I’d sell my 2nd one. It barely gets used but I keep it around because of my work schedule.

  6. In Chicago, the large park&ride stations in the suburbs are the stations with highest ridership. (There are high ridership stations that are TOD oriented, just that doing TOD right in the suburbs is not easy). Also Metra has lower level of service where it overlaps with the “L” where density is greater.

  7. I think #2 pretty much nails it.

    As for non-work trips, if the Park & Ride is the nearest (or most accessible nearest) facility that allows me to use the bus, why wouldn’t I just drive to my destination if it’s a short ways away? It sure beats waiting for the bus both at the P&R and at my destination for the return trip(s), especially if there’s a transfer involved.

  8. Psystenance Blog has an interesting take on “transit language” and the Fundamental Attribution Error.

    Breaking down the modal barriers with language
    http://psystenance.com/2010/09/22/breaking-down-the-modal-barriers-with-language/

    I propose a different and deliberate use of language to mitigate this:

    Old: pedestrians. New: people on foot, or people walking.
    Old: cyclists. New: people on bikes, or people cycling.
    Old: transit users. New: people on transit.
    Old: drivers or motorists. New: people in cars, or people driving.

  9. Sorry, I disagree with this completely. It sounds like over-analysis, like when Freud thought all dreams were repressed sexual impulses. It’s also saying words are the problem, when the problem is implementation flaws. I have always thought of “transfer” in the way you’re describing “interchange”: getting off one vehicle and onto another. “Transfering from” vs “transfering to” doesn’t make sense: every transfer to is also a transfer from, and one can also transfer between two routes. English speakers say transfer, French speakers say “changer”, but so what? A US transit center is a Vancouver exchange, and our reduced fares are their concession fares.

    Although I do see one thing in favor of “interchange” over “transfer”. Interchanges can be marketed as opportunities, while transfers are burdens. An interchange leads to additional choices, while a transfer means you couldn’t get a one-seat ride or nonstop flight. But semantics is fluid: the same pessimistic connotations can easily be attached to “interchange”. Remember how people get mad at RapidRide for being the same bus route in new clothing? That’s what might happen if you simply rename transfer points to interchanges.

    As for P&Rs, they are simply places to collect cars to put those people on transit. They address a major problem of too many cars clogging a highway and guzzling gas. The alternative is to put a comprehensive transit grid in suburban residential areas so that people actually could take a bus to the transfer point, but everybody says that’s too expensive. Some P&Rs do have full-time service, and people use then when they’re going to a ball game or Seattle Center or the U-district on weekends. If other people use them only for commuting, that’s not the P&R’s fault. Other P&Rs have only peak service and/or are in isolated locations, but the neighborhoods around them are usually in worse shape, with hourly or no bus service to the suburban downtown. The problem is the lack of transit and mixed use in the neighborhood, not the P&R, and certainly not the phrase “park n ride”.

    1. I pretty much agree with Mike, though not so strongly. Some P&Rs should be renamed transit centers, some should stay P&Rs (especially where pedestrian amenities are limited – I would think the idea of “parking” a bike could work to fill up bike racks at P&Rs), but we need some completely different term to describe, say, I-5/65th.

      1. Who’s using I-5/65th anyway? Shouldn’t we close it? The only place in Seattle that can plausably claim inadequate bus service is north of 70th and east of 15th.

      2. It’s been a while since I’ve driven by there, but I recall that there were cars parked there, so someone must be using it.

      3. @Mike Orr, I-5/65th could become alot more important once ST 542 starts running next week. It will offer 15-minute service (with a four hour midday break)from Green Lake-UW-Redmond.

  10. I really don’t understand the fuss about “transfer”. I read Walker’s post, and if anything he convinced me of the opposite of his argument. When we change trains, it’s not the train that’s changing – we are transferring ourselves from one train to another, while they each continue on the path they’d have taken without us.

    Mike Orr also has a point about a subset of Park & Rides – perhaps we should keep that name for the ones that really are an end point, and rename others (e.g. Eastgate, South Bellevue) to “Transit Centers”. But then… renaming and rebranding things is surprisingly costly, and wouldn’t that money be better spent on putting in practical things that integrate the facility with its neighbourhood more, like local area maps?

    The USian usage that gets me is the heavy use of “to ride”. I grew up in Britain and we just say “I’ll take the bus to Edgware” or “I’ll take the tube to Brixton”; moving over hear and hearing all this stuff about “riding the bus” or “how to ride Metro” makes it sound like a much less matter-of-fact thing. Maybe it’s just a bias from riding a bike more than I take the bus, but to my ear “to ride” something implies more effort than “to take” the bus or train – the British usage communicates much better that this is an everyday, routine, easy act.

    1. I rarely hear people refer to it as “riding.” It’s always “take,” like you say. Perhaps my brain is just substituting “take” for “ride,” but I think “ride” might only exist in the nomenclature of transit agency marketing departments.

      1. Interesting. This may well be something I had just picked up from print materials and websites, without having realised that no-one really says it.

      2. “Taking” a bus focuses on the goal: going from point A to B on a bus. “Riding” a bus focuses on the experience of being on the bus. In English we drive cars but ride buses, trains, bicyles, and horses, and we also ride in cars when somebody else is driving it. Are you sure British people never say “ride” with buses? Perhaps they’d only say “ride in a bus” rather than “ride a bus”.

        In Russian by the way it’s even more complicated. You “idti” (walk) on foot, but “yekhat'” (ride) in a vehicle: car, bicycle, train, wagon. But the train itself “idti” because it’s on a track, while the others “yekhat'” because they don’t have a track. But if you’re focusing on the round trip or bidirectional trips in general, it’s “khodit'” (walk) and “yezdit'” (drive). And if you’re taking something/somebody else with you, you “vyesti” them (take them on foot) or “vyezti” them (take them in a vehicle). Unless you’re going bidirectional, then you “vodit'” them (on foot) or “vozit'” them (in a vehicle). But if you’re walking and dragging them in a wagon behind you, then you “idti” (walk) and you “vyezti” them (take them in a vehicle). Unless it’s bidirectional of course; then you “khodit'” and “bozit'” them. Yes, seriously.

      3. Follow-up. I asked a friend in England and another in Ireland, and they both said “ride” doesn’t go with “bus” there. One said, “I’m not going to try and make any kind of canonical statements about usage, but I will say that I would probably boggle at someone saying they were riding a bus unless they had an American accent. Doubly so here, because in Ireland ‘ride’ has sexual connotations :)”

    1. That’s the only way I’ve ever heard it used. And while the OED does define “transfer station” as “a point at which transfer-tickets are given, and passengers transferred from one car to another”, both Merriam-Webster and Random House define it as the place you take your trash. If we’re looking to rebrand transit to encourage its use, I agree it’d be wise to stay away from that term.

  11. my biggest complaint is the abundance of surface P&R lots. The motto around here has been whenever a facility reaches capasity build another surface P&R lot. I think paid (relativly inexpensive, mostly to help cover the cost of operations) structured parking is the best, along with some tax incentives towards shopping malls and the like to let transit use their vast expanses as P*R during the business hours, leaving it to the mall for use during the off commputer peak. Id’s only make the last week near christmas kind of tight for all the last minute shoppers, however it’d bring in revenue year around for the devlopement/shopping center thats built on the property. Also by having transit use private property you are getting more bang for your surface parking dollar, but transit can than help pay for securing the facility better along with paying for renovations and improvements. Naming aside, i think that the regon needs to take a collective hard look at some of these surface P&R lots and transit centers and construct a regional plan to consoldate some of them for the ease of the rider (Why are there 4 facilitys in Puyallup (Sounder, Red Lot, S Hill P&R, S. Hill Mall), 3 in Lakewood (Lakewood Sounder, 512 P&R,Lakewood Mall TC), 4 in Federal Way (FWTC, FW P&R, S Fed Wy P&R, and Twin lakes P&R), etc. Just food for thought, i’d need to be a regional plan with stakeholders from the transit agencys and citys prparing a plan to bring to the public but i think its certainly neeeded.

  12. Whether or not the terminology is correct, this is not a time to change it across the board. Park And Ride is fine for the places with parking, and Transit Center for places without. And there should be strong efforts to avoid similar names like Issaquah and Issaquah Highlands, and South Federal Way and Federal Way.

    AS for “transfer station”, that name has been take by the solid waste folks. Let’s not go there.

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