A few months ago, Sound Transit backtracked on their decision to name the different Link lines after colors (e.g. Red Line, Blue Line, etc.). This was a wise move for several reasons, among them the history of red-lining in housing, the difficulty of explaining what “red” is to non-English speakers, and potential difficulties for colorblind users.

While Sound Transit have already committed to changing the naming scheme, they have yet to announce what that scheme will be. While many different name examples abound in transit systems around the world, I will contest that naming our rail lines “L-number” (e.g. L1, L2, etc.) is the best for a number of reasons, including local and international consistency, ease of explanation to new users, and simplicity.

Six possible line designators, chosen to be maximally colorblind safe.

Today, our bus-heavy system already uses numbers (the 8) and letters (RapidRide E), meaning any name will need to distinguish itself from those. Since our rail system is regularly referred to as Link Light Rail, naming Link lines L1, L2, and so on will make it easy for users to know that they need a train, not a bus, in a manner consistent with local standards. Additionally, many systems around the world use a similar naming scheme – Barcelona, Munich, Mexico City, Bilbao, and many more cities use a similar pattern. Copying their consensus will make life easier for visitors used to other systems.

Barcelona Metro map

An oft proposed alternative is that used by London and our neighbors in Vancouver – the use of unique line names like Piccadilly and Expo. While such a system is certainly a fun way to give each line more local color (transferring from the “Cobain” to the “Kulshan” line would be a uniquely Seattle experience), explaining the names to non-English speakers would be difficult, as would the inevitably arduous process of choosing what names to use. By contrast, L-names can be explained non-verbally when necessary (numbers and the letter L are trivially easy to sign). Pairing each line with a color (red L1, blue L2) would allow the use of color in explanations when convenient, but without forcing it on the colorblind.

Link lines need names. L-names are an international standard that’s locally consistent. L-names are easy to explain in multiple different ways, and L-names are simple – given the recent University Street renaming debacle, a name scheme that appends easily (adding new lines is as easy as adding a new number to the same system) benefits new users and is economical behind the scenes. For system expansion, L-names are as easy as L-1, 2, 3.

95 Replies to “What do we name the different Link lines?”

  1. Follow up point – I ran the first image by a couple colorblind individuals, both of whom could easily differentiate all 6 (though one misidentified which colors they actually were). Also important – both really appreciated *finally* having a color scheme they could use.

    1. I totally agree with the idea of L1, L2, L3, etc, with a different color for each line. As mentioned, the short description will fit well on signs, and it is easy to tell someone which line to use. And as barman said, even though the official name of the line would be L1, L2, etc, if you preferred to use the color code, you could use it. There could also be signs at the stations to give additional information. I think seeing L1, L2, etc on the train itself as it is coming in to the station would be easier to quickly see rather than a longer description.

      An issue with using Airport, is that eventually the line from Seatac will end in Ballard, and the line from Everett will end in West Seattle, so you would have two airport lines. Also, if you only are going to an interim stop, for example from NE 65th St to Beacon Hill, I think it would be easier to understand to get on the L1, L2 or whichever number is assigned, rather than get on the Bellevue, Airport, or whatever name is given. This would especially be important when you are at a station that has different lines running though it, so you need to get on the correct train.

      1. “eventually the line from Seatac will end in Ballard, and the line from Everett will end in West Seattle, so you would have two airport lines”

        One airport line. The Everett-West Seattle line will not serve the airport. Even if it’s eventually extended to Burien and Renton it still won’t serve the airport. Lynnwood will have to get used to the fact that Line Formerly Known as Red did serve the airport but now doesn’t, but that’s more of a one-time education for residents rather than an ongoing issue for visitors. If a visitor assumes all lines go to the airport, that’s not a reasonable expectation and they should look at a subway map.

      2. The airport situation is easily handled if ST uses the international standard airplane symbol on headsigns, and an announcement when approaching the appropriate station to “Transfer to the Lxx line for Seatac Airport”

      3. The line between Everett and West Seattle will serve Paine Field which does have scheduled commercial flights. So we will in fact have 2 “Airport” lines.

        That said both should be well marked with the international airport symbol.

      4. SeaTac should have the airport symbol. Paine Field can have a secondary airport symbol. It’s not an international airport, some routes have already been canceled due to lack of use, and the remaining routes may not last twenty years.

      5. Chicago has two “airport lines”, Blue to O’Hare (ORD) and Orange to Midway (MDW). Luckliy for them, both of those lines end at the airports. For Link, the airports are intermediate stops.

        “International airport symbol” does not mean an airport with international flights. It refers to the symbol universally recognized to mean “airport”. Including the airport’s three-letter code next to the symbol is enough to distinguish between different airports.

  2. > the difficulty of explaining what “red” is to non-English speakers

    > explaining the names to non-English speakers would be difficult

    You’ve mentioned non-English speakers a couple times in the article. Do you have any citations for these claims? As a non-English speaker myself, I’m a little sceptical of any stereotyping of non-English speakers in this manner.

    For one, I don’t see any reason to believe they find abstract correspondences hard. In any case, L1, L2 etc. are as abstracted from the lines themselves as colour-based names are. And as for naming things after people, that is also universal.

    1. One of the first things that I learned in my high school foreign language class (and one of the only things I retained) was colors.
      I can’t remember purple, but 5 out of 6 ain’t bad. Can’t understand the issue of not being able to “explain.”

    2. Well, it’s worth talking about writing systems. A Japanese visitor with little or no English skills will struggle mightily with named lines since they won’t know our alphabet very well and won’t even have a way to say it. I speak from experience from when I visited Japan and couldn’t put a name to anything since I didn’t have names for any Japanese characters.

      Numbers, on the other hand, are the same everywhere on Earth. A Japanese visitor may not know the letter L, but they’ll recognize the 1 as ichi.

      1. Furthermore, if all link lines started with an L, would it even matter for people who don’t recognize the ‘L’ character? Maybe I’m too biased with English being my native language, but ‘L’ seems simple enough of a shape to enable people to recognize it on all route identifiers, even if they don’t know what it means.

      2. I came here to provide Tokyo as a counterpoint (As a tourist I found the named lines with a set color on signage to actually be easier than trying to memorize numbers, but that may be more of an issue of scale) and am very confused by your post, as it runs contrary to everything I’ve experienced re: Japan and its people. The vast majority of Japanese people can parse the script we use (even if they aren’t fluent in a language that defaults to it). Additionally, in every city I’ve ever been to in Japan (across 3 different trips there) the train directions were signed in both Japanese and English, and station names when you’re looking at the line map on the train were always in both a Japanese script (generally Kanji + Hiragana) as well as Romanji. Finally, numeric script is not “the same everywhere on Earth” and Japan is a really great example of this, as they still often use the Kanji representations of numbers if it’s in the context of an otherwise Kanji sentence.

    3. Names in general are not a problem, it’s specific names that are hard to distinguish or remember. Shinkuku is easy to remember and pronounce even if I don’t know what it means, and I’m not going to confuse it with Chiba or Yokohama. In kanji they’re a lot harder, but I could memorize one or two of them or at least part of the shape for my home station and a couple other places, or carry a drawing of them to compare.

      The problem is when names are long and repetitive. Moscow has stations like Izmaylovskii Park vs Izmaylovskaya, and the park is actually the second one. (The first is a market square named that.) The lines used to have unreadable names like Tagansko-Krasnopresnenskaya and Serpukhovsko-Timiryazevskaya. Each part refers to half the line (like Link north and south) and often an important station in that half. Foreigners don’t know which stations are important or where they are, so Krasnopresneskaya doesn’t tell me anything other than it’s “red-something” (actually the name of a river and street). But Tagansko I know because it’s one of the transfer stations on the ring line and a lot of trips go through there. But that fails with “Serpukhovsko-Tymrayazevskaya”, which I have to slow down to read and look for distinguishing syllables or word roots, and it’s hard to remember.

      In the 2000s Moscow switched to numbered lines, while still keeping the old names and colors. So now they’re M1, M2, etc. The letter is the mode:
      M = metro
      T(three-legged) = tramvay (streetcar)
      T(one-legged) = trolleybus
      A = autobus

      Good names are easy to remember and pronounce in a wide variety of languages. “Mount Baker” — easy. Even if they pronounce it “Moont Bah-care”, it’s still recognizable, it’s easy to remember “b-k-r”, and no other station comes close to resembling it. “Othello” — that’s a Shakespeare play known all over the world. I can’t think of a bad Link name in this regard. Maybe the multiple Bellevues, Redmonds, and Shorelines, but extra words like “South” are an indication it’s not the main station and of interest only to locals.

    4. Both Chinese and Japanese have official Latin script alternatives (pinyin, romaji) that are taught in school. They use them to enter characters on a keyboard, by typing the first few Latin letters of the word and it gives a choice of 2-5 possible characters. Likewise in Russian they use Latin letters for scientific formulas, brand names, etc, as well as foreign languages. So they’re fully familiar with the Latin alphabet. I assume Korean and the other non-Latin scripts have something similar.

    5. The presentation in November 2019 included a single letter denoting the color, as shown on a slide in the presentation:


      So ST was looking at adding a letter to the color anyway. (Note: Downtown Bellevue would have a “B” in a blue ball for Link and a “B” in a red ball for RapidRide B.)

      The Metro in DC was forced to add two letters to its colored lines to reduce confusion. They also recognized that some diagrams are also printed in grayscale. The official map is here: https://www.wmata.com/schedules/maps/upload/2019-System-Map.pdf

      In other words, some character will be required no matter what!

      1. That alternative is the worst of all. A “G” doesn’t connote green; it suggests there are lines A, B, C, D, E, and F, and that this is the seventh line. Right outside Westlake Station are RapidRide C, D, E, and future ones that follow this pattern.

      2. The confusion would be occurring at 5th and Madison Link station too — RapidRide G in a red circle with a “G” and a “G” for the Green line.

        I swear I don’t know how Much more neglectful ST staff and graphics consultants can be in confusing riders.

    6. I’ve had to explain routes to non-English speakers on the NYC subway *many times* – often with time limits of only a few seconds (e.g. they’re on the wrong train and I have to tell them to 1) get out, 2) go to the [x] line, 3) transfer at [y] st) Miming “4” > “7” is a lot easier than “Kulshan line to Ivar’s line” – same with colors – if I can’t speak the person’s language, how do I convey “red”?

      It’s certainly anecdotal, but it does happen, and for the reasons I give above, I think the L system is more robust.

      1. It matters most when there are more than four lines. ST3 will have only three lines overlapping in Seattle, and two on the Eastside. The Issaquah-Kirkland Line is like New York’s Rockaway Shuttle: it’s of interest only to locals and far from the center where confusion most often occurs.

        That’s a good point about explaining “Red” to foreigners. With A or 1 you can just draw the symbol, but you can’t draw red without a red pen, and people wouldn’t assume you meant red, they’d assume it’s the only color pen you had.

  3. I endorse this idea. This is similar to Berlin as well, with the added detail that Berlin has multiple services and uses the letter to distinguish which service it is. U is for the U-Bahn, S is for the S-Bahn, M is for MetroBus / MetroTram, X is for express bus, and N is for night bus. Regular buses have a 3-digit number with no letters.

    1. Paris is like this too and it works very well. If we go this route, and I hope we do, I’d like to see it expanded to the streetcars as that network grows. S1, S2, S3, etc… maybe even the foot ferries if we continue to get more. F1, F2, F3, etc…

  4. This is the best idea solely from its ability to be expanded infinitely with a simple number change. Unlike color coded lines, “do we ride the red line or the light red line?” Or named lines that will devolve into months of endless fighting over what name to use or which neighborhood of the many a line runs through gets to be honored by it.

  5. Other cities use M for metro. Won’t Link essentially be a metro? (Not meant as a trolling question; I’m really not sure what constitutes a “metro.”)

    1. I like M too, but I fear the distinction between metro-bus and metro-train is too potentially confusing.

      1. And that’s why King County needs to cede the Metro name and choose something else so that Metro is available to Sound transit

      2. A couple of comments.

        I like the suggestion of using L with a number as to me it is simple and understandable.

        As far as the suggestion that King County give up the name Metro and cede it to Sound Transit. Do you realize how much that would cost King County to change everything from the name Metro money that could be better spend on improving bus service.

      3. Tomato, tomato.

        Metro bus is not going away. It’s way too established. Link has a well-known brand, has an unusual letter, and it “links” origin and destination. If other cities can have a MAX or a T or an L, we can have a Link.

    2. Traditionally speaking a metro is a heavy rail system. People who come from places that have actual metros might be confused if for the enhanced streetcar that is Link Light Rail we used the same term as the rapid transit systems they’re used to.

      1. What passengers actually notice is the speed and whether it’s stuck in traffic or not. For 90% of Link and 95% of passengers, they won’t see a difference between light rail and metro here in Seattle.

        Link is way more than an enhanced streetcar. The vast majority runs in the same kinds of elevated, tunnel, and controlled-access alignments that metros do.

      2. Exactly, the ROW segregation is the primary enhancements. And on grade-separated segments Link even travels as fast most metros. But the fact that it’s trams running on that ROW, and that there are plenty of at-grade segments that are functionally equivalent to the old interurbans, means that calling Link a “metro” would indicate something of an inferiority complex.

      3. It is what would be called in Europe (and Argentina) a “pre-metro.”

        Add me to the list of people that think Gerick’s “L1” + color naming convention is a very good one. Anecdotally I’ve found that to be the easiest way to quickly read lines/maps of all the various systems I’ve used (Vienna’s being an excellent example, and with 5 lines more or less what we’re headed for). Using end-station names does not work well as those stations are almost by definition fairly ‘remote’ from the bulk of the riders and bear little relationship to most journeys. Naming lines as in London – which I use frequently – is even worse. It’s hard to explain to someone. “So, is that on the Bakerloo or the Jubilee? Maybe I should change to the Hammersmith and City?” I imagine most people use the colors associated with the lines when using the maps or in transfer stations – which is great if you can distinguish between colors; not so much otherwise.

        Regular users will quickly get used to whatever convention is used because, well, they regularly will use it. Gaining new riders, making it simple for them as well as visitors, is where coherent and simple conventions are best – and they have the benefit of working best even for regular users who are going to unfamiliar destinations.

      4. Pre-metro originally meant lines that were expected to be upgraded to heavy rail at a future time. But many cities found they didn’t need to upgrade because the light rail capacity was adequate. So they aren’t really “pre”-metro anymore, and if some cities are using that name with no expectation of ever upgrading, then it’s a bogus term.

      5. Whether or not it’s a bogus term to you, it’s still being used. Buenos Aires is unlikely to ever upgrade their ‘pre-metro’ and in fact never intended to; hell, they can’t even use multiple car sets on theirs. Brussels probably won’t upgrade theirs either. It’s reasonable to use some term to denote the ‘in-between’ rail systems that are more metro-like than “light rail” – especially as we use the term in the US. There is a fairly substantial difference between Link and MAX, for example, that will grow as more grade-separated right of way is added to the Link system. We don’t have another term to indicate the differences between the two systems; we call them both “light rail” but clearly one is more robust both in power and grade separation and hence closer to a “metro.” Now add the fact that the Tacoma (Orange) line – which IS an ‘enhanced streetcar’ – is also called “light rail.” Perhaps the term “light Metro” for Link would be more apropos.

    3. @Doug: the term “metro”, though popular, is not a technical label for a specific type of train technology. It has become a popular term for a train, most commonly for heavy-rail lines like you see in NY, Berlin, Tokyo, etc. Some of these cities’ transit agencies use the term “metropolitan” and the term “metro” is adopted by locals to refer to the train. A perfect example of this is WMATA in DC where trains are referred to as “the metro”. But in LA, Minneapolis and here, “Metro” is heavily incorporated into their agency’s name and locals refer to their system as “metro” – regardless if they’re taking a train or bus. In Seattle, locals are already referring to Light rail as “Link”. Now we just need to establish a clear branding for each line.

    4. I guess we could use call it a Metro (wikipedia disagrees https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_metro_systems), but even metro systems call their lines L1, L2, L3…

      I don’t care at all about the name. We need 5 more lines for tomorrow and stop driving like maniacs. Good frequency (less than 10 minutes), high capacity,
      with fast transfers between lines. Ideally with more stops in urban areas, and fewer in the suburbs.

      We could do this, and much more. But then I take the bus, see all the free parking that ST builds for cars, and remember that we will never do things right.

    5. The first urban underground railroad was London’s Metropolitan Line. It was steam-powered. The Budapest Metro genericized that name, and the London and Moscow Metros followed. The third network was the Glasgow Subway, from which New York got its name.

      The difference in usage between London, Glasgow, and the US is probably due to different English dialects and the lack of airplanes. “Subway” previously meant a path under a road, and in England it’s used for underground pedestrian crossings. A train going under a road is the same kind of thing, and that term caught on in Glasgow and the US but not in London. Third-rail trains came later. “Light rail” at the time was streetcars (US, from German Strassenbahn) or trams (British, from a Scots word meaning “beam”; i.e., the wooden beams coal trucks ran on). In the 1980s a new generation of “light rail” gave streetcars more metro-like features (an underground tunnel downtown).

      Car terminology is also different in the US vs Britain; e.g., hood/bonnet, trunk/boot, windshield/windscreen. That’s also because airplanes and cheap phone calls hadn’t become widespread yet so the terminology evolved independently on each continent. And again, American English is based more on Scottish, Irish, and regional English dialects than on the dominant English dialects.

  6. I think the new L names would be met with confusion, more so than just simple color names. Colorblind friendliness is also an issue, but it doesn’t seem insurmountable (the words “blue line” could be written on printed materials, and it should be roughly the same for colorblind people as what is suggested here, they just go by the word “blue” rather than “L1”). People also wouldn’t have to wonder whether the “blue line” was L2 or L3.

    I also kinda feel like the whole red line thing is overblown, and based on the unfortunate coincidence that the Red Line ran through the most heavily redlined part of Seattle. I feel like if either the red and blue lines were swapped, or if line colors only began when the second line opened in 2023, then the colors for the lines would not have changed. I could definitely understand dismay that all of a sudden, the Central Link line was changed to the “Red Line” for no reason (East Link doesn’t open until 2023), and on that point, Sound Transit really should have known better. But when you look at Chicago, which has a Red Line and was also redlined, I’m not sure if that’s a major issue. I could be wrong though.

    1. Anything we choose will be met with confusion by some people. As the post explains, type of naming scheme is in use all over the world. I think there’s a reason for that – because it works.

    2. It was sudden to most of the public but it was already decided to use colors back in 2012. Sound Transit’s entire process of selecting a naming scheme and public outreach has been poor from the start.

      I prefer L# over colors even though I’m not colorblind simply because it’s fewer characters to write and easier to communicate.

      1. I mean, I don’t really think it was poor, per se. Line colors are a tried and true method of naming lines. Maybe swapping the red and blue lines and making the rollout less confusing would have helped. Were you thinking ST should have the people vote on a naming scheme?

        Besides, they deserve a lot more heat for their their attempt at renaming a station.

      2. They dropped ‘Red’ due to concerns raised by a few community groups. Had they properly done their outreach this would have been caught long before they even approved it.

        “Everyone else in the U.S. uses colors so we should too” was about as much thought they gave to it. Numbers are also tried and true in the rest of the world, including most of the largest systems.

        LA Metro ran out of colors (another flaw) so they conducted research, surveys and focus groups on various options to develop a staff recommendation to their board. ST did not.

        ST also waited too long to implement this. The original plan was to introduce this by 2014, two years after approval. For whatever reason, it took them eight years. A lot has changed since such as the approval of ST3 and they never reevaluated the policy.

      3. Thanks for the Los Angeles link! It’s how decisions like these should be made.

        Meanwhile, we get the ST model — a few people on staff (maybe just one or two?) make decisions without research on impacts or cost implications, and them ram it through the anxious and overburdened Board in 5-10 minutes.

      4. The station renaming snafu is just another example of the same process that botched the line naming. Al S. summed it up nicely.

      5. I get the points you make, but I just don’t seem to think the decision to use colors is a huge deal. The worst part is the delayed rollout. Hindsight is 20/20, and I just don’t see how much time and money they should have spent trying to figure out if it’s “ok” to use line colors, especially when line colors are close to universal in America and we are not going to run out of line colors until the next century at least. I’m no authority on this, so take this all with a grain of salt.

    3. I’d also like to add that they would be accompanied by colors, so if someone wants to call L1 the red line they’re more than welcome to. I’ve heard people call lines by color in NYC or the old fashioned ‘Lexington Ave’ line. The beauty is they’re all correct, you can be as specific as you want/need to be given the situation.

    4. The other issue with “Blue line” is that once the network expands, you start running out of colors.

      1. I use the NYC subway every day (I live there at the moment, but am from Seattle) – it’s actually really hard in my experience to explain colors in the NY system to out-of-towners :

        “You mean I need the yellow train?”
        “No, the N or W, the Q and R (which are also yellow) go elsewhere”

      2. To the OP…

        While I generally like your suggestion of the L1, L2, L3 naming convention for our light rail lines, I think you really overstate your case for line colors being a barrier for “out-of-towners”. I grew up in NYC and spent the first ~30 years of my life there and frequently assisted other transit users not familiar with the city’s subway system and I never really found this to be a big problem.

      3. Tlsgwm – I live there now, actually, and I think that supports my above point – I’ve regularly had people jump on the wrong train, need help (often these are non-English speakers), and I’ve had only a few seconds to give them instructions as to what train they need – I never use color in those settings – I mime or indicate what line they need (“4” or “R”) and point them to the correct platform. Colors are harder to explain quickly, as are proper nouns.

      4. LOL, that would be a good problem to have. Seattle may have 3 lines by 2055.

        Just use numbers, like Germany does with all their UBahn and SBahn and nearly every city in the world.

      5. @Gerick Lee
        I make trips frequently back home as I still have several friends and family members in NYC and the surrounding area and use the subway system each time I’m there. I too try to assist other transit users who appear lost or confused and I just don’t think the color thing is as much of a problem as you make it out to be for English-speaking visitors, or “out-of-towners” as you’ve put it. For those whose first language is not English, as long as I can understand where they’re trying to go, I usually resort to a subway map and showing them what station and line they need to use.

      6. New York does not promote the colors. They’re line A, line 7, etc. and all the signs are based on that. Just point to the A and keep pointing until they get it.

      7. The colors are to show the shared corridors in Manhattan, where multi-line frequency means there’s a train every couple minutes. And because they’d run out of colors if they gave every line a different color.

    5. Those L1, L2, L3 icons are the most instantly-readable, unambiguous things I’ve seen in any Link suggestion. The left character has two fixed lines; the right character is a counting number that people use every day. You don’t need to remember whether it’s blue, green, or fuscia, just whether it’s the first line or second line. Books can print “L1” just as easily as “Blue”.

      1. What’s confusing about L1, L2, L3? You look for the “2”. Mode+number systems have been successful in Europe for decades. German cities have U1, U2, U3 (subway) and S1, S2, S3 (regional rail). I have experienced New York’s letters, Russia’s difficult names (now replaced by mode+number: M1), Chicago’s colors, BART’s destinations, and Vancouver’s names. The mode+number system is very clear and easy to follow even if you don’t know the language.

        It’s also worth pointing out that the reason New York has so many lines is they give a separate letter to every branch. London does the opposite: the Northern Line has two very widely-diverging branches. and all six lines of the Docklands Light railway are lumped together as “DLR” and have the same color on the map.

  7. It’s simple and easily recognizable. Should also be easy to implement.

    Do it now. Make the decision and move into the next thing

  8. Sounds good. Next item.

    Oh wait, we have to debate the issue for months. Anyway, in general it won’t matter. Most people won’t know, or care what the lines are called. They will simply refer to it by destination (e. g. “I took the train to Bellevue”, or “What you want to do is take the light rail to Northgate”). The signs should also have destinations (Ballard, West Seattle, Bellevue, etc.).

    It is handy when discussing issues on this (or other) blogs, but most people will have to look it up, no matter what they are called. Unless, of course, we did something weird, and intuitive, and named the lines after the destination (e. g. Ballard-Tacoma Link, West Seattle-Everett Link, Redmond-Everett Link, Issaquah-Kirkland Link).

    1. “Unless, of course, we did something weird”

      Never put it past Sound Transit to do something weird and inexplicable. We need to have these conversations because apparently Sound Transit cannot help making things up on the fly as if they’re the first to do everything.

  9. Hey, this was really interesting.

    re: backtracking on naming “Link lines after colors (e.g. Red Line, Blue Line, etc.)”
    Color-naming would have issues with expansion (in a way that the L-n naming can’t). I’m just picturing setting up maps and signage — a Blue Line would be so hard to differentiate from Indigo Line or even a Purple Line, especially if you’re new and confused. Did you choose the order of your colorblind-safe color scheme (e.g. L1 is MATLAB Orange, L2 is MATLAB Blue, L3 is uhhh Spring Green) to enhance contrast between two consecutive lines?

    re: the “Cobain”/”Kulshan” and “explaining the names to non-English speakers would be difficult”
    But also anyone new to the area, not just native English speakers! Can you imagine how many local references they’d have to remember? Hell, I had to look up what “Kulshan” is and I was born and raised in Seattle. On the note of choosing names, the lines would end up presenting our culture — with a likely skew… It’s predictable that we’d get a lot of them reflecting the tech industry, and I don’t think I’m the only one who’d find it annoying to take the “Allen” or the “Barton” to transfer onto the “The Way” (“way” of course for “the amazon way”, kill me).

    re: colorblind scheme and accessibility
    I think you should continue to test this with more and more people. This is a really great idea, and an example of design for good.

  10. I am a native English speaker and when I visit London the 1 part of the London Underground I hate is the name of the lines. District? Piccadilly? Bakerloo? Those names mean nothing to me. Plus their system doesn’t distinguish branches e.g. the District line might go to Ealing or Richmond or Wimbledon.

    Letters and/or numbers, properly color coded, are so much simpler.

    1. I imagine connotations. “District” sounds districty and urban. “Metropolitan” sounds urban. “Circle” sounds like the one that connects all the other lines. “Northern” sounds, well, northern. (Which is ironic since it’s one of the few lines that reaches so far south.) “Bakerloo”, there’s the loo. “Waterloo”, the French hate that. “Victoria”, there’s the queen and the era and the station, and it has wide station spacing between south and northeast. “Central”, it must be central. “Hammersmith and City”, what a cute name.

  11. I’ve proposed any schemes but color-only, so I’m fine with this. Not only are there colorblind people, but colors exposed to the sun will fade over time. Using colors creates maintenance issues over time.

    I also like the square block design illustrated here.. It differentiates from the circles used by RapidRide letters.

    The letter+number theme could also benefit Sounder (T) and STRide (?). Even ST Express could change the first digit “5” to “X”.

    I notice that Sydney uses this scheme too. The use “F” with a number for ferries in addition to their trains.

    I do wish that ST would open the discussion rather than to dictate their choice. The recent station renaming did not go well either, and the staff “railroading” the decision is not wise.

  12. I’m glad to hear that the door is open to a different naming convention. I had always hoped for something easy to read but unique to our city / region. How about the Emerald Line (green) and the Salish Line (blue) that relate to our city’s nickname and the inland sea that defines so much of our local character ?Perhaps even a Rainier Line (White) in future. I think this would be unique to our location and set-us apart from all the others while still being easy to understand.

    1. As I detail above, explaining the system to users should be paramount – regulars won’t really need to think about the name. Because of that, the L names, while lacking in local color, are easy to explain non-verbally. (“L1 > L2 > “airport”)

  13. This is an excellent idea. The letter-number scheme proposed is so straightforward. It’s refreshing to see such a simple, effective, and *inclusive* solution being offered.

    Statistically, 5% of the population is color-blind. That’s over 36,000 people in Seattle alone. The proposed scheme is so easy to implement, and will help a lot of people. Why wouldn’t we want to do that? Seattle is an inclusive city: there is no valid reason for sticking to colors that are familiar to those with color sight.

    This solution Gerick proposes here is sound. It should be taken into serious consideration by both stakeholders and decision-makers.

  14. I have a lot of experience with non-native English speakers, and I have never had any trouble communicating colors with them. When learning a new language, colors are the one of the first things to learn. That said, I agree that switching to another system to accommodate color-blind people would be prudent.

    But I do not believe non-native speakers would have much trouble with “unique” names. My experience as a non-native Japanese speaker living in Tokyo was that, although Tokyo Metro and Toei had a system of letters and numbers to identify the different lines and stations, nobody ever used it. In English, we always referred to the “Marunouchi line” and the “Ginza station”, and there was never any confusion, despite many of us not knowing what these names meant.

    I wouldn’t mind naming the lines after popular musicians. Seattle has more than a few. We could have Hendrix Line, Mix-a-Lot Line, Nirvana Line, Soundgarden Line, and Macklemore Line.

    By the way… my wife is a non-native speaker, and she has a hell of a time pronouncing the letter L, or even distinguishing it from other letters. “F”, “L”, “S”, and “X” all sound the same to her.

    1. I live in NYC at the moment, and I’ve helped a lot of non-English speakers route-find. It’s way easier to explain routes that are on the numbered lines, because the numbers are typically pretty easy to sign.

      As I explain above, nouns are hard to explain (especially when you only have 10-15 seconds to do so, which happens to me often), and choosing the right ones will take years in the Seattle process. Also, coding new lines will mean fitting in new names, rather than just adding a new number.

    2. How do you explain “Red” to a Japanese speaker when you have no idea what the Japanese word for red is? Americans have some knowledge of French/Spanish/Italian colors (rouge, roja [salsa roja], verde, blu, gris [pinot gris]), but not other language families.

  15. This is by far the best option.

    I’m not sure I agree about the colors, but using L1, L2, L3, etc. as the line names is simple and intuitive, and conforms with international standards. It also opens the possibility of furthering the system with S1, S2, S3, etc. for the streetcar and F1, F2, F3, etc. or W1, W2, W3, etc. for the water taxis.

    1. Why hasn’t the Citizen Accessibility Advisory Committee been presented with these naming/ branding issues? ST has a focus group set up — and yet ignores it, instead restricting it only to ADA issues. Even if color-blindness isn’t officially listed as an ADA issue, the decision clearly affects accessibility.

      Except for the Board and its committees, ST gets to restrict what it discusses in public. While I think think the author has very valid points, it’s still just a suggestion. There remains a thickening black curtain on ST staff decisions..

      We need to not only be giving a great alternative for ST to consider, but we need to discuss the process that ST currently uses for decisions like these. I think riders should be more represented in decisions like these.

  16. “This was a wise move for several reasons, among them the history of red-lining in housing”

    That was a hysterical overreaction and should never have gotten out of committee. If people think Red Link connotes redlining, they should get over it, not expect the entire society to avoid one of the commonest line names in subway networks and which has nothing to do with redlining.

  17. I have no dog in this fight, whatever is most understandable to most people. There are Red rail Lines in Portland, the Bay Area (BART), Los Angeles, Houston, Salt Lake City, Chicago, Boston, Washington, and Atlanta, not to mention some Red Line BRTs in various places.

  18. One thing both my travels and my time in the driver’s seat tell me:

    There’s no substitute for as many skilled, trained, experienced, and well-paid transit personnel at close range with passengers as the system can afford.

    Who have no personal problem with the idea that passengers come first. Ready-to-hand aboard trains and buses, and also on every platform.

    Some years ago in Vancouver BC, noticed people who I guess would be classed as “homeless” standing beside fare machines assisting passengers in return for some change. Think I could prove that the system and society would be money ahead changing their “H-word” to “hired”, but that’s [ON] another [TOPIC].

    Major benefit of cashless (no, it’s not free) boarding: people now charged with collecting- and inspecting- fares can shift completely to information-in-motion. As well as general security.

    A little exercise: at Sea-Tac Airport, stand near the fare machines and read the floor-to-ceiling information posted. Prepared to be tested on the information that source gives you-like a $124 fine on a pre-paid card if you get it wrong.

    You’ll be one more vote for whatever the term for “the human opposite of automated information” is. Every tool has its use.

    Mark Dublin

  19. Here’s a suggestion I haven’t seen above: why not name each line after its most distinctive characteristic or most trafficked destination on the route.

    For the LINK route that already exists, the best option would be Airport Line since it connects Seatac as well as Paine Field in the future. While there are many other important stops along the route, the name Airport Line or Airport LINK makes it clear that this is the line that gets you to an airport. Saves a lot of questions from travelers. If the line needs an ideogram, I’d have to recommend a literal glyph of an airplane body as the clearest to speakers of any language.

    For East Link, that or East Line are already suitable from the standpoint of clarity. The defining feature of this line is that it takes you over Lake Washington to Bellevue. Calling it the Lake Line is also an option, but would perhaps be confusing since we have so many lakes. Other options: Bellevue Line, Overlake Line (attractive since it literally takes you over the lake), and undoubtedly others. The glyph for this line might well be an arching bridge over water (an internationally intuitive symbol for a bridge even if the bridge in question is not literally arching).

    Even if there’s a bit of English involved, distinctive names like these which are fundamentally tied to the purpose of the line have the great advantage of being abundantly clear and memorable as opposed to randomly assigning colours, letters or numbers to lines which can easily be jumbled up in one’s memory, especially for those who frequently travel between cities. Meanwhile, the Airport Line is always the line which takes you to the airport, and a visitor understands this intuitively; and with a basic understanding of that Bellevue/Redmond lie east of Seattle, it is easy to know and remember that the East Line is the right one to take.

    To reiterate, we should be aiming at names that accord with intuition by emphasizing the most distinct characteristic or purpose of each route.

    1. I thought about that! I think there are a couple issues – first, given the Seattle process, it’ll be hard to determine what feature to use. (should the airport line be the UW line? What do we call routes with multiple features, and who should make the decision?)

      Second, as you acknowledge, it’s hard to communicate them efficiently – the name is unimportant for regular riders – they won’t need to be told what line they need. First-timers will benefit more from a system that is easy to communicate – take the L1 to the airport. Take the L3 to Bellevue.

      Third, the University St station naming issue underscores how important a general system is – adding a new line is easy to code – just add a new number. Names will need to be handled more sensitively behind the scenes, which may cost more.

      Finally, I think there’s a signage benefit to a consistently short name scheme – L1 fits neatly on a sign. “Airport Line” is six times longer, and so indicators will need to be substantially bigger – in transfer stations, being able to fit “[L1] [L2] [L4]” on a sign will be a benefit.

      1. I get a little ticked that ST got rid of the color branding due to a 50+ year old bank loan term. Not because of confusion. But it is not a big enough issue to make any argument over, for me at least. I like the L numbering. It seems llike a good alternative.

      1. I think “Airport” will always be on the station signage; I’d assume (and hope) that the airplane symbol will replace the word on the reader boards on the exterior of each train car. L3 TACOMA DOME connotes the line number, terminus, and the fact the airport is served on one very short line of text (color too, which I can’t show here).

        Plus, currently only one line will actually go to the airport unless it’s reorganized in that smart 7-line organization Zach Shaner posted a couple of years ago.

      2. (the *airplane* indicating the airplane symbol did not show up after “L3 TACOMA DOME”)

  20. I like names.
    Seattle-Tacoma : “God This Is Slow I Wish I’d Taken Sounder Line.”
    Seattle-Everett: “God This Is Slow Where Are The Toilets Line”
    Seattle-Redmond: “The WiFi Was Better On The Microsoft Connector Line.”
    West Seattle: “Why Did They Bother Line.”
    Ballard: “You End Up A Half Mile From Where You Want To Be Line”
    South Kirkland-Issaquah: “You Thought West Seattle Was Stupid Hah We’ll Show You Stupid Line.”

    1. One way to deal with color similarities is to vary the intensity, saturation, or lightness, or add little black or gray dots in one. Even if the colors would normally look identical, the additional characteristics will make them look distinct.

  21. I’m probably a pessimist, but, I’m not expecting Sound Transit to do something so smart is this.

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