Home New York City Transit What’s in a subway station name?

What’s in a subway station name?

by Benjamin Kabak

With Shea Stadium but a memory, the subway stop nearby will soon carry a new name. (Photo by flickr user wallyg)

Earlier this week, the DC-based Greater Greater Washington tackled the problem with Metro station names. The WMATA’s system has some rather ludicrous names. For example, when I lived in DC for ten months, my Metro stop was called Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan.

Here in New York, we are far more efficient with our station names, and by and large, those names are immutable. After all, Columbus Circle has been known as that since the year after the subway first opened, and 50th St. will always just be 50th St. Street-based names are succinct, and they tell you right where the train will shed its passenger load.

Now and then though, a station tied into a geographic location has to change its name because that geographic location isn’t there anymore. Out in Flushing, where 7 line riders used to travel to Willets Point-Shea Stadium, the MTA is attempting to figure out how best to rename the stop, now home to the corporately-sponsored CitiField. The MTA is none too keen on slapping Citi’s branding on a subway stop without a fiscal contribution, and they have tried to extract one from the Mets will little success. In The Times today, William Neuman reports:

Officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had once hoped that a bit of Citigroup’s $400 million endorsement pact with the Mets might trickle down their way, through a naming rights deal of their own for the station.

But those hopes evaporated with the bank’s near-collapse and the Mets’ refusal to share the wealth.

So on Tuesday, transit officials informed the Mets that when the subway station (currently named after the team’s former home, the now-demolished Shea Stadium) was rechristened, it would not actually use the name of the new ballpark.

Instead, the station, on the No. 7 line, will be called simply Mets/Willets Point. New signs will go up soon replacing the old signs, which say Willets Point/Shea Stadium. The nearby Long Island Rail Road station will be renamed in the same way.

“We’re willing, as we have said, to entertain corporate names on stations, but only for a fee,” said Jeremy Soffin, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Good for the MTA. There’s no need to give Citi the free advertising, and it’s quite possible that CitiBank won’t exist long enough to fulfill the terms of its 20-year endorsement pact.

Meanwhile, Neuman reports on the MTA’s $40 million rehab of the newly named Mets/Willets Point station. That station — a highly-trafficked and impossible-to-navigate one at its worst — has gotten a fresh coat of paint, some elevators, new lights and a streamlined entry path.

With new Yankee Stadium simply called Yankee Stadium, the MTA won’t have to rename the B/D/4 stop in the Bronx. The new Metro-North station will be called Yankees/E. 153rd Street, another succinct geographic demarcation of its location.

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On subway station names and new stadiums | River Avenue Blues March 12, 2009 - 4:30 pm

[…] is attempting rechristen one stop and name another. Over at Second Ave. Sagas today, I looked at how the MTA is not embracing the CitiField moniker and what the agency plans to call the Metro-North stop near Yankee Stadium. Check it out. […]

rhywun March 12, 2009 - 4:54 pm

“Mets” and “Yankees” are also corporate names which one could argue do not belong in subway station names. But since we’re already putting these corporate names in the current stations, I object to the placing of the corporate name in front of the street name, which is the opposite of the current usage (“161 Street-Yankee Stadium” and “Willets Point-Shea Stadium”). A quick look at the current map shows that the street name *always* comes before any landmark name.

George March 13, 2009 - 8:42 am

That’s not true. The old convention was street name first – geographic location/landmark second. However, since the 90’s they have slowly changed that, and most terminal stations, as well as some major stations, have switched to geographic location first – street name second.

42 Street/Times Square for example is now Times Square-42 Street.

Kris Datta March 12, 2009 - 6:25 pm

I don’t think the station is hard to navigate or crowded at it’s worst. During the midday the station is rather empty, and can’t be much better during the rush hour. It only gets crowded during games.

Lawrence Velazquez March 12, 2009 - 7:43 pm

rhywun: The practice of using the team names is certainly arguable (I, personally, think it’s quite strange), but most of the people who use those stations are doing so for the purpose of watching them play, so there’s at least reason for it. I doubt anyone really cares that Citigroup has naming rights for the Mets’ stadium.

I agree wholeheartedly about the ordering, though. Willets Point/Mets and East 153rd Street/Yankees are much more palatable.

Benjamin Kabak March 12, 2009 - 7:46 pm

I wonder why they’re changing it. The old station featured Willets Point first, and the Yankee Stadium stop will remain 161st St.-Yankee Stadium.

Ed March 12, 2009 - 8:06 pm

Even though its a corporate name, you can make a case that the 59th Street – Lexington Avenue stop should be called “Bloomingdale’s”. That is the biggest landmark there, and historically the stop was put in because of the store.

I think the existing subway names work really well, the one improvement I can think of would be to put in the names of neighborhoods. Outside of Manhattan the streets don’t often fall into a nice grid pattern and if someone unfamiliar with the are won’t know how close the stop is to his final destination by the street name alone. This would mean the “Nevins Street” stop would be called “Nevins Street -Boerum Hill” and so on.

rhywun March 12, 2009 - 8:31 pm

I would actually prefer unique names for every stop–stuff like 3 or 4 stations named “Canal Street” really bothers me–but I guess there’s nothing to be done about it in NY where there are so many stations and there just isn’t a suitable landmark at every stop. But I think it would be neat to just give a station name without also requiring the line.

As for why are they switching the team name to be first, well… I have a theory about that. NY is as sports-crazy as every other town and this is one way to show it. I think it’s lame though. I don’t care about baseball, I think I’ll just omit the team names.

Cap'n Transit March 12, 2009 - 10:50 pm

I agree about the uniqueness. In Paris and London, every station has a different name. It’s hard to do on a grid system, but you could at least change them to Canal/Varick, Canal/Church and Canal/Centre.

What’s worse is when you have two stations with the same or similar names on each line. I once saw two people go almost all the way to 23rd and Sixth on the V train when they needed to get off at 23rd/Ely. Similar with Seventh and 53rd and Seventh and Flatbush. Maybe they’re not very close together, but they can still be confused with each other.

bill reese March 12, 2009 - 9:54 pm

Let us not forget that Times Square is named after The New York Times, yet the MTA does not complain that The Times gets away with free advertising. Nor did they complain when The New York Herald was still publishing, after all the intersection of Sixth, B’Way and 34th Street was named after that defunct publication.

Not all Mets fans will bank with Citi, not all subway riders who transfer at 42nd read the Times. I say if you’re going to deny Citi, you should also rename the other stations, or at least ask The Times to pony up (which, considering their financial straits, they’ll be more than willing to do.

Benjamin Kabak March 12, 2009 - 9:58 pm

I think the Times Square analogy is a little bit flawed. Times Square is a prominent area in New York City that happens to be named after a building The New York Times no longer inhabits or even owns. I’d even go so far as to bet that the majority of New Yorkers wouldn’t be able to tell you after what Times Square is named. CitiField is a bit more blatant than that.

rhywun March 13, 2009 - 10:01 am

Well, he has a point. I believe Times Square was named after the paper, not the building. However… it was over 100 years ago and it’s pointless to make a stink about it at this point. Plus in this case the station is named after the square, and only indirectly after the paper.

That gives me the idea to create, say, a “Yankees Square” and “Mets Square”. Then name the stations after them. I wouldn’t mind that much. Naming a station after a place is much more acceptable than directly after a corporation.

I wasn’t aware of Herald Square’s origin.

Benjamin Kabak March 12, 2009 - 10:53 pm

Also, in case anyone’s interested in some more history here, I wrote about station naming conventions in September.

Scott E March 13, 2009 - 7:45 am

Although I’ve never questioned The Times in the past, I think the article may have some errors. The MTA always uses dashes, not slashes, in their names, so “Mets/Willets Pt.” would really deviate from that.

The LIRR stop is only open during Mets games and events at Arthur Ashe Stadium (which got slighted, once again, in the naming) so maybe that’s why the team name is first there. But I think it would be better to find a way to adapt the “Flushing Meadows Corona Park” name in the stop.

Meanwhile, at the #7 station there is still at least one sign (on the Manhattan-bound outer platform) that reads “Willets Pt. Blvd”. The station is on Roosevelt Ave, Willets Pt Blvd is quite a distance away.

R2 March 16, 2009 - 1:00 pm

My two cents: Willets Point – Mets Stadium

That way, the entire sign wouldn’t even have to be replaced. Just cover/paint over/whatever in black “Shea” and put in Mets.

For $200,000, a subway station name :: Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog June 23, 2009 - 12:46 am

[…] the city and the Mets dismantled Shea Stadium and opened the corporately-named Citi Field, the MTA tried to get some money to rename the Willets Point-Shea Stadium stop after Citi Field. The two sides could not reach an […]

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