In February, I wrote a piece detailing my thoughts on how to name the Link lines. In it, I prioritized usability and conformity with international best practice. The verdict is in, and Sound Transit have announced that Link lines will be numbered moving forward. In my opinion, this is great – they’re universal, and avoid a number of pitfalls that come with other possible schemes (as discussed in my previous article). Sound Transit have also released documentation detailing the reasoning behind their choices, which demonstrates their comprehensive approach to the process, and a willingness to engage with community feedback. I think it’s worth going over some of the background of their choices, which, while broadly a good job, does leave some room for constructive criticism.
First things first, the new scheme is clear, and easily understood – take the 1 line to Ballard. Take the 2 and transfer to the 4. This is how many of the best networks are organized, and it’s really good to see that Sound Transit are mimicking that practice. They also reference the use of similar schemes in Toronto, Paris, Santiago and Madrid. As our system expands, a lot of critical decisions will be made in the design process, and it’s a good sign that ST planners are considering the practices that make other networks work so well.
The scheme is not without a few weaknesses – the colors they’ve chosen for the train lines, while bright and vibrant, aren’t the best for colorblind users (the 2, 3, and 4 colors are pretty similar in some of the more common presentations of anomalous color vision). Moreover, they dismiss criticism that numbered train lines will be mistaken for buses. I think this is unwise – ST themselves explain that clarity for first time users is a priority – hopefully their partners at Metro accommodate the new nomenclature and can change the numbering of bus lines without too much hassle. In my first post, I suggested the use of L to avoid exactly this overlap, but it’s also reasonable to keep the train names as short as possible, as long as the bus network can make accommodations.
Taken together, there’s a lot to like in the new Sound Transit line naming. The new system is bright, clean, and easy to explain. While the original color-line rollout was less-than-ideal, it’s encouraging that Sound Transit have responded by soliciting feedback from a number of organizations, and it’s a great sign that they’ve listened to that input. Of wider note, it’s reassuring to see such improvements in Sound Transit’s decision-making process, something especially critical as we move into a decade marked by such dramatic change.