ONLY A DAY after we happened to miss a sign and wind up on the wrong platform at the Metro Center subway station, we were advised in an account by staff writer Jack Eisen that Metro's fancy/mod graphics have been officially deemed confusing. It took at team of consultants to render a series of judgments that could have been made by practically any customer of the system. For example, the firm of David M. Pesanelli, Inc., concluded that "the simple 'M' designation (for Metro) needs to be elaborated on" - that maybe on those pylons outside the stations the word "subway" might help.
Of course it would. Even the word "Metro," standing alone, didn't do it at Union Station, where subway officials learned some time ago that few arriving passengers seemed to know that Metro was the local synonym for a subway. But that's just skimming the surface; when you get right down to it, the information underground is equally difficult to fathom. As the consultants note, Metro ought to introduce "a linear station identifier located along station walls," with the name of the station repeated at even intervals so that riders can see it from the train car. True, there's a pleasant voice that tells you what station the train is approaching, and another one that greets you when you get off. But passengers ought to be able to see where they are as well as hear it.
That brings us to another of the report's logical findings: Street names and quadrant locations should be used to identify stations. It's all very well to hope that people will eventually learn that Metro Center is the stop for 11th and G Streets NW, or that Farragut North is Connecticut Avenue and L (or K) Street NW. But visitors or first-time riders need help. Also, as the study suggests, station exits ought to be marked more clearly, including which streets they lead to.
While they're at it, Metro officials might step out their efforts to improve information at bus stops, too. Most passengers appreciate a few tips on where a given bus is likely to take them. Only the veteran bus-riding townspeople really know the routings of the Trinidad, Ivy City or "Ga. & Alaska" buses. Perhaps, with a little luck and lot of work, Metro will develop the necessary coordination between bus and rail lines that will not only improve public understanding of the system but also get people where they want to go in the most efficient way possible. At Metro's prices, that's not too much to ask.