What's in a Metro Station Name?

The Name of the Place

The Metro board on Thursday directed staff members to rename five stations along the system's Blue, Green, and Expo light rail lines:

  • Blue Line/Green Line - Imperial/Wilmington/Rosa Parks to Willowbrook/Rosa Parks
  • Blue Line - 103rd Street/Kenneth Hahn to 103rd St/Watts Towers/Kenneth Hahn
  • Green Line - Vermont Av/I-105 to Vermont Av/Athens
  • Green Line - Hawthorne Bl/I-105 to Hawthorne Bl/Lennox
  • Expo Line - changed Venice/Robertson to Culver City
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(The board also changed the Artesia Transit Center to Harbor Gateway Transit Center. The center is the terminus of the Silver Line, a limited-stop bus service from El Monte to downtown and the southeast county.)

According to Metro, requests to rename stations come from riders, neighborhood residents, and local officials. Exactly how that led to yesterday's name change is unclear, except that Metro politics almost certainly had a role.

Changing names doesn't come cheap. The cost for sign replacement begins at more than $100,000 and could reach nearly $600,000 (depending on the station's size and location). And more than station signage will have to be replaced. Recorded announcements on trains will have to be redubbed. Published maps and in-station map displays will have to be updated. Websites and automated telephone messages will have to be changed.

And these changes won't make Metro's naming conventions any more logical. In fact, the changes add additional inconsistencies:

Along the Blue Line from the Long Beach Transit Mall to the 7th Street/Metro Center/Julian Dixon terminus, the stations had been named for major cross streets. After the change, the connecting point for the Blue and Green lines will be named after an unincorporated neighborhood in Los Angeles, paired with a tribute to civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks and without any highway designation. The station formerly known as 103rd Street/Kenneth Hahn will lengthen its name by adding the nearby Watts Towers.

Piling on additional descriptors makes sense to the Metro board, given the cranky politics of naming, but it makes those stops harder to remember, difficult to list on a printed map, and ridiculously long in recorded announcements.

Changes to Green Line station names are potentially even more confusing. Station names are already a jumble of cross streets and incorporated cities, to which new references to unincorporated neighborhoods will be added. Unless you're a student of Los Angeles, you're not likely to get any additional "Where am I now?" help by adding the names Athens or Lennox to the station's designation.

The Gold Line's naming scheme is completely chaotic, throwing together some neighborhood names, several specific locations like Mariachi Plaza and the Southwest Museum, and the names of streets adjacent to stations.

Getting to know your way around L.A. by transit shouldn't be any harder than it already is. A coherent and relatively uniform naming scheme for stations and transfer points would have a very real impact on transit use by tourists and the occasional rider.

Instead of the current chaos, the naming scheme now used in Asian transit systems would give each station an additional letter/number designation apart from its name. That would allow Metro to tailor "ceremonial" station names to local sensibilities (and political pressure) while giving riders a uniform way of tracking their progress from line to line.

Simple . . . but that would require Metro to rethink how it names all its stations, something Metro is unlikely to do, given the high costs of being logical.

D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

The image on this page was taken by flickr user waltarr. It is used under a Creative Commons License.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles." He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times.
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