The Sound Transit Board will reopen the decision, approved by the Board just two weeks ago, to rename the University Street Station in downtown Seattle as Union Street/Symphony station. The news came at the conclusion of Thursday’s Executive Committee meeting when Claudia Balducci announced that she would bring a motion for reconsideration to the next Board meeting.
Last month, you recall that we voted on the naming of the University St station. I wanted to just let you all know I’m going to bring a motion to reconsider that decision. I’ve come to believe Robert’s Rules of Order actually contain deep wisdom on the human condition. One of those rules says if you vote and you feel you have made a mistake, you get to ask for reconsideration. My decision on that was based on the tension between the rider experience and wayfinding, versus the safety impacts of how our system works with acronyms for stations. Since that vote I’ve visited that area. The doors are nowhere near Union St. And there’s been some reporting that showed we have acronyms like Angle Lake station. Do you know the acronym for Angle Lake station, colleagues? “200”, nothing to do with the name of the station. So we have that precedent already of that acronym. I think we should really revisit it and I’ll be asking that we do that at the next Board meeting.
The University Street station name first became confusing to tourists and new riders after Sound Transit opened the University of Washington station in 2016, and would become more confusing after U District station opens in 2021. A round of public outreach late last year surveyed six possible station names.
The most popular, narrowly, was ‘Symphony’, with ‘Benaroya Hall’ and ‘Seneca Street’ also polling well. As the outreach was underway, it was realized that the acronym ‘USS’ was used extensively within Sound Transit operations. It would cost about $4 million more to make the name change if the acronym ‘USS’ had to be replaced.
As Peter Rogoff explained in January:
As we started costing out the options, we discovered that, by making more profound changes that digressed from the acronym, we could run up costs as high as, at its maximum, $5.3 million. We would never recommend to the Board that they spend $5.3 million to rename a station. However by sticking with the USS acronym, we could execute the needed name change for less than a fifth of that amount.
‘Union Street/Symphony Station’ was selected as the name that conformed to the USS acronym and was closest to the preferred option from the community engagement.
Even at the last Board meeting, some members questioned the renaming. “Is this station anywhere near Union Street?” asked Chairman Kent Keel. Staff responded “Union Street is the street adjacent to two of the station entrances. Those entrances are on University Street”.
In the end, it seems the wayfinding issues were too great. And as Claudia Balducci observed, Sound Transit has managed with outdated acronyms in their systems before. Angle Lake is “200” because it was planned as S 200th Street. Those challenges will grow as the regional network expands and becomes more complex to manage. But it’s most important to make the system comprehensible for the travelling public.