In renamed Metro stop, NoMa hopes for hipper identity

November 3, 2011

If you’re a tourist riding Metro’s Red Line, and you accidentally get off at NoMa-Gallaudet U, where are you?

The name “Gallaudet” might ring a bell, but “NoMa” is likely to leave you scratching your head.

On Thursday, Metro’s board of directors changed the official name of the New York Ave-Florida Ave-Gallaudet U stop — what many have just referred to as “New York Ave.” — to NoMa-Gallaudet U.

New York Ave. will live on as a secondary name for at least a year — think of it as a surname. In some ways, it’s like the station is getting hitched to someone it barely knows.

Many riders don’t know NoMa, either.

That’s what they told Metro in customer surveys about proposed station-name changes as the transit authority prepares for service modifications over the next two years. The new station name won’t go into effect until a new map debuts in June.

So, what the heck is NoMa?

The name, with its allusion to the cool vibe of neighborhoods such as SoHo, refers to a part of the District roughly north of Massachusetts Avenue to R Street and between First Street NW and Fourth Street NE. It is a place long populated by barren stretches and warehouses, but it is struggling for a new identity as new apartments, businesses and amenities pop up in the corridor north of Union Station.

But the connection was unclear to riders at the station Thursday.

“I don’t think it is a good idea because I didn’t know what NoMa meant,” said longtime Metro rider Bennie Buggs, who works at a Department of Justice office near the station. “Tourists wouldn’t know what it means. New York Ave. is pretty simple, straightforward. Keep it that way.”

Farin Robinson, an intern at the U.S. attorney’s office who lives in NoMa, likes the change.

“It’s getting the name out there. It’s hipster-sounding,” she said. “But most people are used to New York Avenue being in the name. If you’ve been riding Metro your whole life, and now it changes a name, how confusing is that going to be?”

It was a change advocated by D.C. officials, who also agreed to help pay for adjusting the signs, fare charts and other displays where the name appears.

NoMa-Gallaudet U is one of several changes the board approved Thursday. Other name modifications include:

●Navy Yard will become Navy Yard-Ballpark.

●King Street will become King St-Old Town.

●SEU will be dropped from the Waterfront-SEU stop’s name, because Southeastern University no longer exists.

Over the years, some names had become long and cumbersome.

In July, the board adopted a policy to have a well-known primary name for each station that is no longer than 19 characters. The primary names of transfer stations are limited to 13 characters. Each stop also has a secondary name.

The new names come as Metro prepares for service changes to the Blue and Yellow lines and the 2013 opening of the Dulles Airport rail line, now officially called the Silver Line, to Tysons Corner and Reston.

On Thursday, the board debated the new station names for nearly two hours after hearing from about two dozen residents, area business leaders and officials and students from Gallaudet University .

At times, it seemed the board was going to unravel the name-shortening policy it had set this summer. In a last-minute resolution, the board directed Metro staff to analyze the inclusion of names of institutions of higher education, hospitals, corporate names, logos and other “landmark institutions” associated with station names and its effect on riders.

But other board members cautioned that adding such changes would jam the map and defeat the purpose of the new policy.

“It is not this transit authority’s job to advertise every institution in the region,” said Jeff McKay, an alternate member of Metro’s board of directors from Fairfax County.

Metro General Manager Richard R. Sarles reminded the board that customers “need to be able to read the map quickly and not see a lot of clutter.”

The board grandfathered in three station names even though they exceed the 19-character limit because, they said, riders feel a strong connection with certain names. Those included Grosvenor-Strathmore, Georgia Ave-Petworth and Franconia-Springfield.

The new map will display the shortened station names in a new design format, with the primary name — the words before the slash — on its own line. They include:

●Addison Road/Seat Pleasant.

●Archives/Navy Mem’l-Penn Quarter.

●Dunn Loring/Merrifield.

●Gallery Place/Chinatown.

●Mt. Vernon Sq/7th Street-Convention Center.

●U Street/African American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo.

●Vienna/Fairfax-GMU.

●West Falls Church/VT/UVA.

●Woodley Park/Zoo/Adams Morgan.

The board also agreed to add the universal “hospital” symbol to three station names — Forest Glen, Foggy Bottom-GMU and Medical Center — to indicate the medical facilities nearby.

Dana Hedgpeth is the Washington Post’s lead reporter in covering the Metro rail and bus systems in the D.C. region and the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) that runs them.
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