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Metro to look at name changes for stations

WASHINGTON — The Metrorail station called U-St/African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo is a mouthful by any measure.

Now Metro has a chance to simplify that and other station names that are a source of complaints and mockery among riders.

The transit agency is planning to review its naming policy this week — and ask that alternative names to the long, tongue-tiers be submitted by Aug. 1. Riders may even get to have some input.

The transit agency says it has a window to make the changes now because it is planning on several major service changes in the next few years. Officials plan to realign the Yellow and Blue Line service in June 2012. Then the 23-mile Dulles Rail extension is slated to open 11 new stations in two phases by late 2016.

Those changes require some 2,600 new station signs and 5,000 updated maps, according to Metro.

“This provides an opportunity for jurisdictions to submit name changes prior to the transition that could be included in the overall changes without added expense,” a report to the board of directors says.

Already some 20 new or tweaked station names are in the mix, the report says. But the agency is recommending that board members solicit rider feedback for other changes.

The transit system does have some rules for its names. Station names are supposed to be no more than 19 characters long — or just 13 characters long for transfer stations such as Gallery Pl-Chinatown where the Yellow, Green and Red lines converge. The policy was last updated a decade ago.

The idea had been for the names to be brief yet distinct, easy for train operators and station managers to pronounce quickly over the public address systems. Furthermore, Metro’s first general manager, Jackson Graham, said the stations should have just one geographic identifier and preferably be limited to just one name, such as Rosslyn or Wheaton.

But, clearly, the rules have been broken.

Some 15 of the 86 existing stations violate the 19-character limit, Metro says, and seven of those have more than one hyphen or slash mark separating the names.

Transfer stations have an even higher violation rate: three of the eight hubs exceed the 13-character limit.

The problem was highlighted last week when the blog Greater Greater Washington sponsored a fantasy map contest, asking its readers to submit redesigns of the existing Metro map. Of the 17 submissions, some maps struggled to fit the long names on their designs — and left off some stations altogether.

It’s not clear how much changing names of stations costs. The report said its policy cites $100,000 as the approximate cost of a station sign change but said those figures are out of date and often vary widely station to station.

However, the budget for the Dulles Rail project already includes the cost of changing signs associated with those 11 new stations, the report says.