I was discussing the looming labeling problem for Link with my friend, Scott. I was explaining to him how Metro’s RapidRide uses letters and how Community Transit uses colors. I mentioned that this could create confusion, as the RapidRide signature red color creates confusion with a proposed red line labeling for ST’s Link, and how having Community Transit’s color-coded lines will lead to confusion for the eventual ST green and blue Link line labeling. Scott noted that he was recently in London and that don’t use colors at all; they label each rail line with a name.
I reviewed what other systems do. In the US, the most popular among new systems is the use of colors. For example, there are Blue Lines in places like Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Atlanta and Washington DC, like what Sound Transit has proposed.
A few systems rely on numbers or letters. Denver uses letters. Paris uses both (numbers for city lines and letters for the regional rail system). New York uses both (a legacy of the days when the subways were owned and operated by multiple companies). Along with London, Tokyo and Vancouver have labels for each of their lines.
As reflected in these numerous examples, there is no standard way to define lines. Even in cases where one primary scheme exists (such as colors), there can be primary and secondary references (numbers or letters) often applied to each line.
Choosing Label Names
If we did choose label names, I wondered would be the best labels. There are many ways to choose label names. My scheme begins with two additional principles that could be applied to line labels that could enhance the messaging:
1. Choose a label that implies an obvious primary color. In this way, the name can be interchangeable with other signage that riders would see, and respect the current ST approach of using colors.
2. Choose a label that would lead to alphabetized lines. While not as important as a color linkage, this would provide riders with one more way to interpret the order of the lines.
In other words, rather than have to choose, Sound Transit could adopt an integrated labeling strategy that would allow for users to identify lines in several ways! I have even created an initial suggestion for labels based on this idea. The ordinal letters, colors combined with symbols could make it particularly clearer for non-English speaking travelers, kids and others who can’t yet read English well.
My Initial Labeling Scheme
Red Line. Line letter: A. Label name: Apple Line. Specific color: Medium/dark red (as a red delicious apple). Symbol: an apple. An apple is often associated with red.
Tacoma Link. Line letter: B. Label name: Bear Paw Line. Specific color: Medium brown (as a grizzly bear). Symbol: a bear’s paw. Curiously, Tacoma Link has not been slated for a line color; it may be useful to do this for a number of reasons. Bears are often associated with brown.
Blue Line. Line letter: C. Label name: Cascadia Line. Specific color: Sky Blue (as a sky color above the silhouette from the Cascades). Symbol: snow-covered mountains (Mt. Si or Mt. Rainier?) against sky. The term Cascadia has often been used in local slang.
Green Line. Line letter: D. Label name: Duwamish Line. Color: Bright Green (perhaps similar to the color of Sounders, Seahawks and evoking a green river). Synbol: native American symbol or silhouette as appropriate. Since our region was home to the Duwamish tribe including Chief Sealth; honoring their legacy is wholly appropriate.
Fifth Line. Line letter: E. Label name: Eagle Line. Color: Darker gray (as in bald eagle feathers). Symbol: an eagle’s head or body. With major colors already assigned; the next label can be flexible on color choice. Honoring the many eagles in our region seems a good label for “E”.
I’ve devised even more initial line labels using these same principles.
F — Forest Line, with dark green. Symbol: tall evergreen trees in a forest
G — Grapevine Line, with darker purple. Symbol: grape bunch attached on a vine
H — Husky Line, with gold (UW color). Symbol: a husky head
I — Independence Line, with navy blue (US flag color). Symbol: a star
J — Jazz Line, with black (piano keys or sheet music staff). Symbol: a grand piano, a keyboard or notes
There are merely initial labels, colors and symbols. I would suggest that ST create a professional artistic process using seasoned marketing professionals and trademark attorneys to develop great proper labels. Still, I do think there is quite a lot of merit in developing a labeling scheme like this one for a multi-line system in our multi-operator transit region.