More Metro

Although Zachary Schrag’s book doesn’t address the considerations that went into Metro having only tracks for local service (as opposed to, say, a third track for skip-stop service), it does remind us of the simple, descriptive, efficient names that architect Harry Weese and general manager Jackson Graham (ex-Army Corps of Engineers) intended for the stations:

a. Some names come naturally: Rosslyn, Pentagon, DuPont Circle [sic], Bethesda, Prince Georges Plaza.

b. Others indicate location by at least one coordinate: Backlick Road, Monroe Avenue, Georgia Avenue, Suitland Parkway.

c. We have used, where possible, traditional and/or colorful words (Foggy Bottom, Navy Yard) rather than mechanical terms (23rd and I St., N.W., 3rd and M, S.W.)

d. We have limited names to two words, preferably only one.

(Graham to Board, 8 January 1969, quoted in Schrag, pp. 255-256)

Schrag says that WMATA’s original policy, upheld for many years, was to limit station names to nineteen letters and spaces, thirteen for transfer stations. O tempora! O mores! Now we have capriciously punctuated mouthfuls like U St/African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo and Vienna-Fairfax/GMU. Yeah, George Mason University is walking distance from the station, if you’ve got half an hour.

Schrag also tells a story almost too good to be true about how the big downtown transfer station got its name, the one that outlanders insist on calling just “Metro.”

…planner William Herman complained that the system’s main transfer station was badly named. He argued that “12th and G” was both confusing (several entrances would be on other streets) and too undistinguished for so important a station. Ever reasonable, Graham agreed to let Herman choose a better name. “I’ll let you know,” responded a relieved Herman. “No,” Graham explained, “I’ll give you twenty seconds.” Stunned, Herman blurted out the first words that came into his head: “Metro Center.” “Fine, that’s it, go on to the next one,” replied the general. And they did. (Schrag, p. 153)