The Pacific St. Edition of ‘What’s in a Name?’


A common sentiment, express on a t-shirt.

When it comes to names, New Yorkers are very possessive and adverse to change. A few years ago, some subway conductors starting adding “Top of the Rock” to their announcement at Rockefeller Center, and the corporate addition drew more than a few eyebrows. New Yorkers object to the placement of NYU’s name at the Christopher St. and 8th St. subway stops, and the Mets still play at Shea Stadium.

Nothing though has generated more angst than the corporate naming rights deal at the former Atlantic Ave.-Pacific St. subway stop. For $200,000 a year for 20 years, Barclays has appended the name of its sponsored arena to the station, and Transit has dropped poor neglected Pacific St. Although the arena doesn’t open until month’s end, the station signage has been updated, and the IRT FIND displays are sporting some decidedly low tech decals. Even as protest t-shirts spring up, the station is now, for better or worse, Atlantic Ave.-Barclays Center.

But is Pacific St. supposed to have been left to the dustbins of history? Tough to say, says Norman Oder in a recent post at his Atlantic Yards Report. Noting that the signage wasn’t supposed to debut until the arena actually opened, Oder questions the MTA’s handling of the name change:

It turns out, when the $200,000-a-year deal was approved 6/24/09, the MTA board was told of a different plan. As the … meeting transcript shows, then-CFO Gary Dellaverson stated, “[E]ven though it appears to be a single station, of course it is in essence two different stations and there is two different names, and, it will be Atlantic/Barclays Arena and the Pacific Street Barclays Arena. So that is how it would be named.”

…Dellaverson has left the MTA, and agency spokesman Adam Lisberg says staff aren’t sure why he said it. “Folks here now believe that it was always intended to be Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center,” he told me. The Pacific Street platform still has the name in a “beautiful mosaic [below], and we’re certainly not going to go in and chisel it out,” Lisberg said. Otherwise, the identifier is vanishing…

What’s the rationale? “If the sign on the map says Atlantic-Barclays,” said Lisberg, the sign at the station should match it. “Three names gets too long. Shorter is better.” “The decision to shorten it to ‘Atlantic-Barclays’ was made by the MTA purely for reasons of brevity and clarity, not as part of a conscious decision to commodify public space,” he added, in response to my suggestion that some people are concerned about such commodification. “For commuters, people reading the maps, for tourists… taking it to a concert, calling the station by two names instead of three is much simpler,” Lisberg added.

As Oder notes, the signs weren’t supposed to be revealed until the “Beneficial Use of the Subway Entrance is achieved.” In non-legalese, that essentially means that the date of the name change should have been the date the new subway entrance is available for public use. That clearly hasn’t happened yet. The signage, however, has changed, and the pre-recorded announcements trumpet “Atlantic Ave.-Barclays Center.” Consider it a few months of free advertising.

So the question I circle back around time and again concerns Pacific St. Should we mourn Pacific St.? While Lisberg noted to Oder that the Atlantic/Pacific complex is, technically, two different stations, that distinction has been lost to history since free transfers were instituted in 1967. Meanwhile, Pacific St. is a rather easy street to miss. Despite running parallel to Atlantic Ave., it’s not a destination; it’s quiet residential street. Anyone bound for Atlantic Ave. is far more likely to be looking for station’s namesake, the arena, 4th Ave. or Flatbush. It’s a name that could go without much fanfare, absent a naming rights controversy.

Yet, for the MTA to get it right with respect to naming rights, the authority can’t sacrifice the system’s identity. As I’ve said before, the new name can be appended to the old and should involve a reason — but not necessarily the reason — for traveling to such a station. It isn’t clear if the MTA gave away too much in renaming Atlantic Ave.-Pacific St., but dropping Pacific St. hasn’t gone over too well.

Categories : Brooklyn

50 Responses to “The Pacific St. Edition of ‘What’s in a Name?’”

  1. Larry Littlefield says:

    Mayor transfer stations like that one are better off named as places rather than streets in any event.

    Kind of like calling it Times Square Station instead of 42nd Street.

    I’d like to see Broadway-Nassau-Fulton renamed Amsterdam station.

    As for Barclay’s center, it’s a major destination. One may object to the corporate naming the arena, but since that’s its name, what can you do?

    This is part and parcel of the way the arena was financed, with the fig leaf of no public investment. Given the required back door subsidies, and if the public sector was not routinely raped by contractors, the state could have built the arena itself and called it MTA center.

    • IanM says:

      Your example doesn’t quite work, though, because in fact it usually IS called Times Square-42nd Street, not just Times Square. Morever, Times Sq. is itself a geographic location, not a branded private building. The comparison would make more sense if they called that stop “42nd Street-Bubba Gump Shrimp”. Also I think you’ve slightly missed the point – no one has a problem with corporate naming of the arena – it’s the public subway stop that feels a bit wrong.

      For a more apt analogy, look at the transit stops around NYC’s other sports arena, Madison Square Garden. All of them are named based on where they are geographically, and where they can get you, not the name of MSG or any other particular venue nearby, which is the way it should be in a busy transit hub – a transit system should be designed for functionality, not branding.

      Yes, some small local stops like 66 St.-Lincoln Center incorporate the names of nearby destinations, but the Atlantic stop is a very busy transit hub in its own right. Sacrificing helpful geographic information for a bit of advertising doesn’t seem like the right call here.

      • That said, did they really sacrifice helpful geographic information? Who’s really going to Pacific St. anyway? Don’t you think more people would like to know the Barclays Center is right there rather than Pacific St.? I do.

        • IanM says:

          True, Pacific St. is not a destination in itself, and I’ve always thought it would be more informative if the station were named Atlantic-Flatbush or Atlantic-4th Ave., to give a better sense of exactly where it is. But people somewhat acquainted with the area know that the Pacific St. station is where they need to go to get on the 4th ave line, or where to enter or exit to and from the South if they want to avoid crossing that massive cluster of an intersection on foot to get the main entrance. Whereas if you think you’re going to “Atlantic-Barclays” and you end up outside the Church of the Redeemer, you’re confusingly far from the actual arena. Atlantic-Pacific was a good hint and reminder of the actual area that the station spans.

          No, I don’t think it’s a particularly huge loss in this case, but it’s the principle of eliminating geographic info from a major piece of transit infrastructure in exchange for a name that seems to be a negative trend. When I was living in the suburbs and first figuring out how to drive around the city, for example, the Triboro Bridge told you that it connected 3 boroughs – it wasn’t much of a leap then to figure out how to make use of it. The RFK bridge tells you nothing whatsoever if you don’t already know. I just don’t think we should abandon the principle of functionality first too lightly.

      • Larry Littlefield says:

        “Times Sq. is itself a geographic location, not a branded private building.”

        Funny but your example doesn’t work historically either, because Times Square was named after a branded private building/newspaper.

        Who knows? Maybe this junction will become known as Barclays Center even if the naming rights deal expires or the company ceases to exist.

        • IanM says:

          Of course, but nonetheless the “Square” it refers to an intersection of streets – a geographic place, not a building. And at this point, everyone knows it as the place where Broadway intersects 42nd st. and 7th ave. not the place where the NY Times has its headquarters.

          Yes, if they eventually name the intersection “Barclays Plaza” or something and that becomes a recognizable geographic location, that would be a great name for a subway station. As it is, though, the name refers to a building nearby, not a place on the street grid.

  2. John T says:

    I agree – the complex of 3 stations is better with one name rather than 2 or 3. Other major cities rename joined stations to a common name, finally NY is doing it – Goodbyb Lawrance St. for Jay/Metrotech, and Bway/Nassau for Fulton. It’s simpler for everyone in the long run.

    Clearly the Barclays Center is there – why would anyone have a problem with getting used to the new name before you need it? It’s really not a big deal to me.

    A slight correction – while the IRT & Brighton BMT Atlantic Ave stations had a free transfer by 1967, the BMT Pacific St. station wasn’t a free transfer into the 1980s, even though the passageway existed to the IRT, there were turnstiles at either end because there were entrances to the street then.

  3. colin says:

    The FIND’s on the R-160’s got rid of “Atlantic Ave-Pacific Street” for the fourth avenue platforms awhile ago. Nobody made a fuss until it was tied into Atlantic Yards.

    • Larry Littlefield says:

      Right. The issue isn’t coming from transit people. It is coming from anti-Atlantic Yards people.

      The issue of selling off naming rights is a legitimate one. To me, the real problem is that the names can change. Today the Barclay’s center, tomorrow the Virgin Atlantic center, or something.

      One solution for a station like this is to drop the street names and call the whole thing “Brooklyn Transfer — Barclay’s Center.” Then if the name on the destination changes, it would still be Brooklyn Transfer.

      • Shabazz says:

        I always thought NYC overused street names. So much so that these names often become confusing to people. I.e. Clinton Washington on the C or G??? or 14th street on the 3 or on the L?

        While Brooklyn Transfer may be a little Generic for my taste, renaming it Times Plaza (the official name of the area) or Forte Greene station, or maybe after a notable personality (Whitman station?) would be a step in the right direction:

        As for the other station names that could be shortened:

        1) 14th st. Union Square= Union Square

        2) 34th St. Penn Station= Penn Station

        3) Lorimer st/Metropolitan ave. = Williamsburg East

        4) 59th st. Columbus Circle = Columbus Circule

        and so on…

        I really don’t think folks would get confused

        • Jeff says:

          Don’t forget the two 36 Street stations on the R and two 7th Ave stations on the B

          • Larry Littlefield says:

            The station is Atlantic Avenue/Barclays Center. Atlantic Avenue runs from New York Harbor out to Jamaica Queens. The Barclays Center tells you more than Atlantic Avenue.

            I like Broadway Junction. Only one of those. For the major stations, we need more of that.

        • Josh says:

          I’ve often felt the same way, particularly after returning from London and enjoying the mix of neighborhoods and landmarks and streets for which their stations are named. Every now and then I try to come up with similar names for the NYC subway stations, only to stop when I realize that I have no clue about a lot of the system. Maybe I’ll take another pass at it today…

          • Eric says:

            It’s a fun exercise. Really though you’d keep the street names in Manhattan and outside of Manhattan you’d probably name them based on location or neighborhood. Tube stations in Central London are usually named for a nearby street due to the concentration of stops: Bond St, Tottenham Court Rd, Oxford St, Embankment.

            • Nathanael says:

              Streets in London are shorter. It means that naming a station after a street is frequently much the same as naming it after a neighborhood or location. Similarly, there’s no real problem with “Wall St.” station in NYC — but there is a problem with stations named after *very long* streets.

  4. TP says:

    …aaaannnd we’ve been naming streets, places, subway stations after corporate entities since the dawn of time. Times Square used to be called Longacre Square. It was renamed for the New York Times!

  5. John-2 says:

    The only real glitch I would see is for a novice rider headed south of the Atlantic-Flatbush junction on the BMT/IND who sees that, for example, the N and the B or the Q and the D both stop at Atlantic Avenue-Barclay’s Center and thinks it’s an easy cross-platform or same-track transfer from one train to the other.

    Meanwhile, I’m still waiting to see what the MTA comes up with in terms of station name consolidations when the uptown 6 transfer at Bleecker Street-Broadway Lafayette opens. “Bleecker-Lafayette” would be my choice, but given how they’ve readjusted the main booths on the 6, if it suddenly turned into “Houston-Broadway”, I wouldn’t be shocked (disappointed, yes. Shocked, no).

    • Henry says:

      I think it should just take the name of “Broadway-Lafayette” – it’s the much bigger, (probably) more heavily used station of the two, and it’s not like Fulton and Broadway/Nassau ever became “Broadway-Fulton”.

      • John-2 says:

        That doesn’t really help the 6 riders though, since there are four stops on the line along Lafayette — Astor Place, Bleecker, Spring and Canal. “Houston-Lafayette” would at least give you both north-south and east-west streets, and would probably match up to where, once the transfer opens, the biggest number of people will be entering/exiting the station.

        • Billy G says:

          The name should be Broadway-Houston in all announcements and metal signs be put up on poles and walls at Bleecker St. Broadway and Houston are the big intersection. “Broadway-Houston” also starts with a “B”. With the renovation to bring the uptown platform southward, “Bleecker St” 6 should really be “Houston St” 6 now, historic station art notwithstanding.

          • Nathanael says:

            If we’re going to go with “neighborhood” or “area” names, Bleecker St. is actually a better choice, since Bleecker St. is a short street. And it’s certainly distinctive, if the goal is to avoid confusion

    • Jeff says:

      All those “B” and “Bleecker Street” plaques that they are installing right now seem to be pointing against them changing the name of the station.

      • John-2 says:

        Historical preservation has its advantages, as far as the IRT Contract 1 stations and their original designs go. They really can’t touch the Bleecker plaques in the 1904 section of the station, which is also why I’d prefer the “Bleecker-Lafayette” announcements if the MTA does opt for a combo — even if the wall plaques don’t change — because is preserves at least part of both stations’ names while at the same time merging the two names to indicate it’s a shared stop/transfer point for the lines.

        • Jeff says:

          They aren’t just preserving the existing plaques, they’re making and installing replicas of the “B” plaques in the extended portions of the platform.

          • John-2 says:

            I know. I was just saying that because the north 260 feet of the station is landmarked, the MTA couldn’t alter that. So keeping the ‘B’ consistent over the southern 250 feet of the station makes more sense than putting up ‘H’ or ‘L’ plaques for Houston or Lafayette streets there.

      • JMB says:

        I’m glad someone brought this up…these are mostly new, right? There was only so many of those B’s originally made and could only cover the distance of 5 car lengths. If so, this means that everytime they renovate an original IRT station they can remake the original designs. Oh how i wish they would redo 137th on the westside and bring it back to its original beauty.

        • Jeff says:

          IIRC a lot of those “Bs” were in very bad shape prior to renovation too.

          But yes, they’ve been remaking the original mosaic and plaque designs (and getting better and better at it) for many of the BMT/IRT stations that needed them to be made. And its great that they’re doing that.

          • JMB says:

            Excellent news, thanks. Any idea who they contracted this out to and what are the materials they used? I looked at the replicas and the material looks more like wood than ceramic (you can see the back side of some of them weren’t painted)

      • Nathanael says:

        Ah, but is there any historical preservation order in on Broadway-Layfayette?

        Or could they rename the entire complex “Bleecker Street”?

  6. SEAN says:

    I think in the case with the Mets, the Citi Field name was rejected for the subway station in favor of retaining Willits Point as it has been known since 1964.

    Corporate names on arenas do change, but in this case for transit they do make for easy identifiers. It’s interesting that MSG hasn’t been changed to Cablevision Garden despite the fact that the Dolands own it & are going through a massive renovation.

  7. BrooklynBus says:

    I think you are making a big deal out of nothing. The loss of the Pacific Street name is nothing major. I think where possible any station connected by a free transfer should have the same name, while two distinct stations should have different names. For example, giving directions to or finding Kings Highway or DeKalb Avenue on a map can be confusing since there are more than one of them. The major DeKalb Avenue could be DekalbAvenue-LIU for example.

    • Phantom says:

      The loss of a station name of 90 years or so duration is something major. We lose a bit of history, esp older riders who might have used known the station for 40-50 years or more.

      Losing it to some ” Atlantic – Pacific ” thingie name is one thing, having the name ruined by inclusion of some bank name is worse.

      And keep in mind that all this is happening while the names of the Triboro Bridge, 59th St / Queensboro Bridge, and now Battery Tunnel are being ruined in a rush to name them after politicians. Can’t we respect any historical names here?

  8. AlexB says:

    Simple names are better than complex ones, and I think the MTA is right to unify and shorten station names. Court Sq, Fulton St, Jay St-Metrotech, etc. are all upgrades over the names that preceded them. At this point, it’s really just an accident of history (our system originated with 3 separate providers) that we have so many names for stations that are basically in the same complex.

    The specific name has to be chosen with the line’s route taken into account and the station’s actual layout. If it has two names, it may be helpful simply to understand that it has two entrances. For example, I always know the G has exits at Beford AND Nostrand, and the A/C only has an exit at Nostrand. If a route turns corners often, it can be helpful to name the station after an intersection, as opposed to just one street. The F does this as it turns east on 9th St, including that street in the Smith St and 4th Ave stops for clarity. The Hoyt-Schermerhorn stop is another good example. It can be very hard to intuitively picture the A traveling under Cranberry, then Jay, then Schermerhorn, then Fulton. Just calling the station Hoyt St would have confused it with the 2/3.

  9. JAR says:

    As to the t shirt, perhaps designed by someone who hasn’t been in NYC too long? I seem to recall maps from the 80s calling the 4th Av line portion of the station “Pacific St” and the Brighton/IRT portions “Atlantic Av”, with a transfer between them.

    • Nathanael says:

      Notice that “Flatbush Avenue Terminal” on the LIRR quietly became “Atlantic Avenue Terminal”, too.

      The MTA is clearly trying to unify the complex under the “Atlantic” name. Why they picked that name (rather than “Flatbush Ave”), I don’t know.

  10. Peter says:

    $200,000 a year seems like a pathetically tiny amount of money, given the number of daily riders who will now be exposed to the Barclays name. Heck, the MTA probably spent $200,000 replacing all the signage – so there’s one year’s haul down the drain.

    I agree the loss of Pacific St. is nothing to be mourned from a usability standpoint, but there was a pleasant symmetry in the Atlantic-Pacific name, conjuring the oceans. My guess would be that’s why Pacific was chosen in the first place, instead of something more utilitarian like Flatbush.

    Selling naming rights is a bad trend for public transit, and I’m happy that it doesn’t appear to have caught on around here other than this one deal. Fortunately in this case, the name has directional utility for riders, providing a justification above and beyond the sponsorship fee.

  11. Benjamin says:

    I always thought it was nice that it was the two different oceans in one subway stop. Atlantic-Pacific rolls off the tongue in a way that Atlantic-Barclays doesn’t.

  12. Tower18 says:

    I don’t understand why anything needs to be renamed at all. When there is a major destination, why can’t the announcements just say “alight here for” or something similar, as they do in London? The Westminster station doesn’t need to be named “Westminster-Parliament” and yet, everyone knows, even tourists.

  13. LLQBTT says:

    So why hasn’t the MTA put all its stations up for naming rights then? And how is the market value determined anyway? $200k/per annum seems kinda cheap.

    • The interest in subway naming rights deals is essentially zero. Various transit agencies throughout the country have tried to sell naming rights with stations near sports complexes receiving some lukewarm interest and most other stations receiving no interest.

  14. corey best says:

    Alot of the NJT Buses service areas where there are no railways , although NJT plans on restoring or Expanding service in these areas. Like Middlesex , Monmouth , Sussex , Ocean and Bergen Counties…. The Plans have been backed up like with the Bergen County Rail Plan , and they just started with the Sussex County Rail Plan which won’t really solve the bus issue. To make dent in the bus issue you need to build all the Rail lines as called for in Central Jersey & Bergen County plans which also solves overcrowding on the Urban Jersey Bound buses and solves some highway congestion. The Estimates from the Central Jersey Rail plan is 150,000 Riders , 70,000 New riders and about 70,000 shifted riders.. Its a little less for Bergen County just 90,000 Riders are Projected mostly on the LRT Extension some with the West Shore line and Cross County line… Speeding up the Gateway Project would also solve some of the bus issues…and allow for NJT to expand the Urban Regional Rail Network.

  15. Duke says:

    I’ve always just referred to that station as “Atlantic”. This changes nothing for me.

    And, “Barclays Center” is not an objectionable name for the arena. I shall, however, insist on continuing to call it such in spite of whatever other naming deals may come up until such time as it is demolished.

  16. We have had some interest in these types of promotional items and had some graphics created by another company. Is it viable to use the same graphics? The graphics company is Concord Signs & Banners 3568 Kimball Way Concord, CA 94518 – 925-808-3817. I’m not sure if the files will be compatible.

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