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Expanding Metro color scheme?

I invited readers of our Commuter page to comment on Metro's proposal to create several new train routes next year. The plan to divert some Blue Line trains from the Rosslyn tunnel and to put some trains on a route between West Falls Church and Largo would affect riders on all lines but the Red Line. See a map.

Metro's planners have been working on this for several years, and I can see why. These new rush hour routes would not only affect many thousands of rush hour riders but also require solutions to communication issues right down to how the new trains should be designated. Should they get different colors, or just different destination signs? How should the Metro maps be modified?

Several people have offered their opinions, and I invite yours. Here's one letter on the color scheme of the future.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
At some point, if Metro keeps adding new routes, it will need to develop a new scheme for naming its routes. But, for awhile, I think it could designate the two new rush hour routes you described by using two pastel colors.

The present routes are designated with strong colors (okay, it's hard for yellow to be strong, but the others are), and the Maryland circumferential route, I understand, will be designated with a strong purple color. I suggest using a pastel lilac for the rush hour route between West Falls Church and Largo Town Center.

Admittedly, orange and blue don't exactly make lilac, but I hope the connection will be close enough to make some sense to most affected Metro riders. Similarly, I suggest using pastel lime green for the rush hour route between Franconia-Springfield and Greenbelt. At least part of the route involves blue and yellow, somewhat related to lime green. It would be important, in any event, to use pastel colors to help riders distinguish the rush hour only routes from the regular service routes.
-- Don Malone, The District

Another writer suggests i should start with this description of the proposed Blue Line split:
"The plan would expand service between Franconia-Springfield and eastern downtown during peak hours by diverting three currently operating Blue Line trains per peak hour to the Yellow Line."

This could be depicted on the system maps by showing the Yellow Line going all the way to Greenbelt at the north end. At the south end, the Blue Line could be shown in a yellow and blue cross-hatched pattern from King Street to Franconia-Springfield. This would indicate that, during peak hours, some Yellow Line trains would go from King Street to Franconia-Springfield instead of to Huntington.

Would that be difficult for riders to follow? Maybe not, since they already manage to distinguish the Yellow Line service at rush hour, when it ends at Mount Vernon Square, from the Yellow Line off-peak service, which ends at Fort Totten Greenbelt.

Would that work for you?

By Robert Thomson  | July 28, 2010; 1:30 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail  
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How with mental disabilities do these people have to be to not be able to name six different colors?

Posted by: jiji1 | July 28, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Metro hasn't figured out what the best ways are to communicate these pending changes in the lines. It's not only a question of how to remake the maps, which is going to be complicated and expensive. (I didn't even mention that Metro will soon have to add a color for the Dulles extension. Probably silver, since that's what many people have been calling it.)

Some riders I asked to comment are trying to come up with a color that strikes them as logical and would therefore be easy for people to remember in planning a route.

I grew up trying to figure out the New York City subway map, with all its colors and numbers, so I understand why people base their suggestions on clarity and simplicity.

One thing about the pastels: It's not just what color we're looking at on a map or on the side of a train. The operators are going to have to say these names over the loudspeakers. I'm not sure I want them telling us, "This is the Lime Green Line to Greenbelt," or "This is the Lilac Line to Largo."

Posted by: Robert Thomson | July 28, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

"This is the Lilac train to Largo Town Center"

"Transfer to the Lime Green line on the lower level."

It would certainly make the station announcements more entertaining.

Posted by: bmp246 | July 28, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

I don't like losing several trains an hour from the Pentagon to Rosslyn part of the Blue line. Eventually, I think we're going to need a third set of tracks, and maybe a fourth from Rosslyn through downtown. Robbing the Blue line to give to the Orange line is only a stop gap measure. However, if it MUST be done, just call trains from Franconia/Springfield to Greenbelt as Green Line trains, Greenbelt to Franconia/Springfield as Blue Line. West Falls Church to Largo is Blue, Largo to West Falls Church is Orange. In other words name by destination.

Posted by: jcflack1 | July 28, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Yeah, bmp246, but we don't want to confuse the daily grind with some sort of Disneyland experience. Mr. Toad's Wild Metro Ride.

Posted by: Robert Thomson | July 28, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: jcflack1, I don't mean to imply from the current color discussion that riders need to just accept that this change is going to happen. Metro has been working on this for two years, and has discussed the changes with community and rider groups along the way, but the plan has not yet been approved by the Metro board. I think staff will go back to the board for approval this fall.

The staff says more people would benefit from this than would be hurt by it, but the staffers do acknowledge that some people would have to wait longer for trains, or their trips would take longer than now. For example, a rider between Franconia Springfield and Foggy Bottom would have a slower trip.

But meanwhile, many Blue Line riders whose destination is on the eastern side of downtown would get a faster trip.

Posted by: Robert Thomson | July 28, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Blue Line riders whose destination is on the eastern side of downtown could (gasp) transfer to the Yellow Line.

Posted by: jiji1 | July 28, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Black, white, brown, tan, and magenta stand out as short, known colors. The sad thing is that Metro has been working on this plan for years (YEARS!) and couldn't think of a sixth color to explain it.

If it helps:

Posted by: jiji1 | July 28, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

I agree, they should be the same color based on DESTINATION. Example, if a train terminates at Largo its BLUE, Greenbelt is Green etc.

This prevents maps from being re-done twice in 3 years (for silver line addition) and saves $$ on signage replacements.

On a totally unrelated note, is there any way to ease gridlock after Nats games? Honestly, it is so bad im not sure I can ever ride metro to a game again.

One thing I thought of, not sure if its possible, can they have an orange line "express" train that would say "vienna" on it and would transfer directly to the orange line instead of going to LeFant Plaza? Half the train empties at the transfer point.

If you are going further north on the green line (say to Gallery place), you get stuck in all those orange line masses.

Do the Green and Orange line tracks connect at all to physically allow this?

I doubt they do because this is the worst designed system ever, but just wondering.

Posted by: m1ke3i6 | July 28, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

All this for a system whose primary color is raw umber?

Posted by: bs2004 | July 28, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps if Metro were to expend this same energy towards, oh, safety and escalators?

Posted by: ceebee2 | July 28, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Forget colors, run 8-car trains.

Posted by: jckdoors | July 28, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

"Maybe not, since they already manage to distinguish the Yellow Line service at rush hour, when it ends at Mount Vernon Square, from the Yellow Line off-peak service, which ends at Greenbelt."

Sometimes... but usually Yellow Line off-peak ends at Fort Totten.

m1ke3i6, I don't think that idea would be possible. The orange and green lines only meet once, at L'Enfant Plaza, and they are on different levels of the station.

A general question: Are there any colors that they specifically want to avoid because of their connotations? I can imagine them not wanting to have a white line ("is it only for white people..."), for example.

Are the names Purple Line and Silver Line official at this point?

Posted by: DOEJN | July 28, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

I agree with other posters that colors could be determined by destination. They could be further subdivided into Blue A and Blue B for example. I would save new colors for lines involving new stations.

Some other color ideas: pink (again, controversial?), gold, gray (would have to be darker than silver on the map), teal, copper, burgundy.

Periwinkle, olive, crimson, peach, navy, pine, lavender, aqua, cream... :)

Posted by: DOEJN | July 28, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

The FIERY DEATH line. Oh wait, that's the Red. I doubt they could use "Brown/Black/White" both for risk of offending the PC-police and because white doesn't show up on white maps all that well.

But adding a letter to the existing colors for the new end-stops could work, or simply numbering them. "Blue G" - terminates at Greenbelt. "Blue L" - terminates at Largo. Etc. Or add numbers to the terminal stations on the map, such that Greenbelt is "1" and Largo is "2" - then the trains could show "Blue 1" or "Blue 2". Not the most user friendly solution ever, but hey, it's Metro. You might be trapped in the station with a broken escalator staring at the map for a while anyway, plenty of time to study it.

Posted by: privacy5 | July 28, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

The idea of determining line color by destination actually isn't new for WMATA. Back in the very late 1970s or early 1980s (I forget exactly when) there was a period where trains on the shared Orange and Blue tracks used the destination to determine the train's color. My recollection is that this happened when the Blue Line was extended from Stadium-Armory to Addison Road and WMATA was looking for a way to train riders to look for the correct color. A train leaving from Ballston would be designated a Blue Line train to Addison Road, then would return as an Orange Line train to Ballston. A train leaving from Reagan Airport would be designated as an Orange Line train to New Carrollton, then would return as a Blue Line train to the airport. Or something like that, anyway. I don't remember all the facts all that well, but I remember the Metro map from the time showing the split Orange/Blue service with arrows showing what train was going where, and I recall pamphlets or flyers that explained "Why the Blue Line is Running on the Orange Line" and such.

As for the question raised by "m1ke3i6," there is no practical way to run an Orange Line train to Nationals Park because there is no connection between the Green/Yellow and Orange/Blue tracks. The only ways to run a train from Navy Yard to Vienna would be (a) to have the train switch tracks and back into the outbound side of L'Enfant Plaza, then switch tracks again after the Pentagon to back into the northbound side, then switch tracks AGAIN after Foggy Bottom so as to head back to Rosslyn; or (b) to run the train to Fort Totten and then go back up the connector track that leads to the Red Line (once used by the "Green Line Shortcut" service prior to the opening of Columbia Heights and Georgia Avenue), then run the train to Farragut North and have it back down the connector track that leads to the Orange and Blue tracks just west of McPherson Square. Obviously, both of these options are wildly impractical.

As far as additional line colors go, they probably need things that are easily distinguishable from what's currently in use, yet not susceptible to misinterpretation or jokes (similar to why New York doesn't have a "I" train or a "P" train, respectively). Grey wouldn't work if the Dulles Line is silver. A shade of blue would have to be very distinct from the current one and easily described--teal might work, for example. Brown might not be so good because people will make all sorts of jokes about the quality of Metro's service. :-) Gold seems fairly sensible if they use silver for the Dulles line.

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 28, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

As anyone who's watched small children with paint can tell you, orange and blue make brown.

Posted by: martindelaware | July 28, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

To follow up on my prior comment, I did a Google search and found a blog post talking about the Orange and Blue Line split back in the early 1980s. It also includes a map of the system from that time. (Note that it shows the Blue Line planned for Huntington, which was the originally-intended layout.)

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 28, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: DOEJN, Thanks for the catch. I mis-wrote, and should have said that Yellow Line off peak ends at Fort Totten.

And to address your color question: The names Purple Line and Silver Line are not yet official. Maryland, builder of the Purple Line light rail, hasn't come to any agreement on who's going to operate the line. Might it become part of the Metro system? Might the MTA operate it directly? Plenty of time to decide that.

Metro will operate the Dulles Metrorail extension, but "Silver Line" remains unofficial till the Metro board decides what to call it. There's no reason Metro board members should choose anything else at this point, but the origin of "Silver Line" remains a bit of a mystery. I haven't been able to track down who first called it that. It's not the name Metro officials or project officials generally use when referring to the new line.

A sign of how color-challenged we are: When Metro planner Jim Hughes presented this Blue/Orange split to the Metro board this month, he used a map that showed the Blue Line diversion in purple. I'm pretty sure Metro will defer to Maryland's light rail on that color.

Posted by: Robert Thomson | July 28, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

The operators don't really have to announce the line, I think. Thing is, they announce it now while a train is pulling out of (or into) a station, to people (on the train) who presumably already know what line they're on.

But even if the intended audience were those people on a platform, particularly a platform that served multiple lines, this could be solved by using adequate signage on the FRONT of the train, not just the sides, that indicated the train's destination terminal.

Personally, I would prefer that Metro operators not make any announcements other than things for delays and other wildcards; the standard station or line announcements, if needed at all, could be done with automatic recordings. As a train approaches a station, the recording would be, "Now arriving at Dupont Circle, doors opening on the right." And as the train departs, the recording would be, "Red Line to Shady Grove. Next stop, Woodley Park / Zoo / Adams Morgan."

This would help people on the train. For people on the platform, better side-and-front signage would help immeasurably; if you stand at the very end of a platform, it can be very difficult to see the digital signage on the side of the train (and sometimes the first car doesn't even have it).

Also helpful: Why not change the flashing platform lights to be the color of the approaching train's line? Aha, flashing green, must be the Green Line.

Posted by: dfranzen70 | July 28, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Wouldn't it be nice if this color problem was the most important thing that Metro had to worry about?

Posted by: WashingtonDame | July 28, 2010 7:06 PM | Report abuse

"Why not change the flashing platform lights to be the color of the approaching train's line? Aha, flashing green, must be the Green Line."

A couple of stops have this sort of thing. The ones of which I'm aware are the lower platform at Rosslyn (where the outbound Orange and Blue Lines diverge), the west side platform at King Street (ditto as to outbound Yellow and Blue), and the west side upper level platform at L'Enfant Plaza (ditto as to outbound Green and Yellow). In all cases, there are two colored signs at the "front" end of the platform bearing the names of the terminal stations (to use L'Enfant as an example, half the sign is green and says "Branch Avenue" while the other half is yellow and says "Huntington"). The appropriate half of the sign flashes as a train pulls in. Seems like it would be a relatively simple and cheap step to add signs of this sort to all shared-track stops, although I'd certainly agree that they ought to hold off doing it on any stops where they anticipate revising service within the next three years (why spend money when you know there's about to be a change?).

WMATA's rejoinder would no doubt be that the existing digital signage tells you what train is pulling in, and I understand this point. Speaking as someone who wears glasses for distance viewing, though, I can say that the color-specific signs at the stops I mention above are easier to see from a distance at a glass if I'm not wearing my glasses than a sign that requires one to read the information presented. (That is, I don't need glasses if I'm close up. If I'm already on the platform I can easily read the signs on the side of the train. What I can't do is read them from a distance without my glasses, and I'm sure there are other folks who have the same issue. Getting older stinks!!!!!)

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 29, 2010 12:17 AM | Report abuse

1995hoo: The Blue/Orange split you describe was implemented to economize on car assignments. New Carrollton had higher passenger numbers than Addison Road, and National Airport had higher passenger numbers than Ballston, but there were only enough cars to have about half the trains be 6 cars long, and the other half had to be 4 cars long. So by running all trains from New Carrollton to the airport and from Addison Road to Ballston, the 6 car trains could serve the busiest branches on each side. I believe this ended with the opening of the Yellow Line bridge in 1983, which provided relief on the airport side of the Blue Line, which in turn allowed the trains to resume their original routings.

Posted by: FHMetro | July 29, 2010 8:05 AM | Report abuse

I suggest the Gray Line.

Posted by: mbridgette1 | July 29, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

I vote for Silver and Gold. They are short, easy to remember, and have class!

Posted by: Gloucestergirl | July 29, 2010 7:59 PM | Report abuse

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