Sound Transit is planning to rename the University Street Station to “Union Street Symphony” ahead of the opening of the Northgate Link extension. ST has correctly determined that having a station named “University Street” and another named “University District” (in addition to a third station named “University of Washington”) will cause confusion to riders. While I agree with the motivation to change the station name, there are some problems with this rename. There is a different solution which addresses these problems while still clearing up the confusion.
The Downtown Transit Tunnel opened in 1990. Renaming a station that has existed in public for 30 years can be a bad idea. There are thirty years of printed materials with “University Street” station referring to a station downtown. There are thirty years of human memories, some people who probably rarely use transit, or who may not get the notice of a transit station name change. Some of these people may live in different cities and countries or using printed materials in different languages. Educating everyone on the new name will be difficult and expensive and will be a serious usability problem for riders. Especially people looking for “University Street”, not finding it, but instead finding “University District” which is many miles away.
A good rule to follow when naming transit stations is the principle that station names should tell you where the station is. In this case, the University Station is one of only two stations in the system whose name actually does that job (along with Sea-Tac station). That station is on University Street. It’s not on Union, and it’s not on “Symphony” (which isn’t a place). Taking the only station in the city whose name references where it is and naming it after somewhere it isn’t seems like a bad idea and move in the wrong direction. Paying $5.3 million to do it seems like a very poor use of public funds.
The reason the current names are a problem is that they refer to neighborhoods rather than refer to where the stations are. But it is possible to create names that will both not confuse people familiar with the old names and be sufficiently disambiguated. If we were to rename the stations to refer to their location as well as neighborhood or landmark, we could solve both problems. We could even do this in a way that existing printed materials referring to University Street Station would not become useless or worse. As long as we are spending millions to rename stations, let’s do it right and fix all the names.
- 103rd Street – Northgate
- Roosevelt & 66th Street
- 43rd and Brooklyn Ave- University District
- Montlake Boulevard – University of Washington
- Broadway Ave – Capitol Hill
- 5th and Pine Street – Westlake
- 3rd and University Street – Benaroya Hall
- 3rd and James Street – Pioneer Square
- 4th and Jackson Street- International District Chinatown
Duplicated or similar station names are not actually a big deal. Chicago’s L system has five stations named “Western” – including two “Westerns” on the blue line alone – as well as three “Californias”, three “Pulaskis”, three “Kedzies” (and a “Kedzie-Homan”), three “Ciceros”, etc. You get the idea. New York has many similarly named stations, and several duplicates (“Canal Street” springs to mind). Toronto has “St Clair” and “St Clair West” both on the yellow line. Users can figure this out if they understand where the stations are. Let’s come up with a naming scheme that actually improves service usability.