Friday, August 23, 2013

Pimisi name shouldn't be a problem for transit users

Earlier this week, Ottawa's Transit Commission voted to accept a list of recommended station names for the Confederation Line light-rail system. There wasn't much contention over the majority, with serious debate on just two of them: Tremblay Station, which is near the VIA Rail station, and Pimisi Station, a name recommended by the Algonquin Nation which means "eel" in Algonquin.

The discussion around Pimisi dealt with the fact that it's geographically irrelevant to the station's actual location. Other station names were passed through public consultation for their effectiveness as way-points and geographic markers that make it easier for people to know what stop they're to disembark at.

Councillor Rainer Bloess was the lone transit commissioner who voted against Pimisi. His comments, via the Ottawa Citizen, had to do with utility of the choice:
“It really doesn’t do anything for the Confederation Line,” observed Innes Coun. Rainer Bloess, the one transit commissioner to vote against the name. Victoria Island in the river, the heart of aboriginal presence in the capital, is probably due to be renamed, Bloess said, suggesting the Pimisi label might be more appropriate there.
Meanwhile, the Ottawa Sun published an editorial that called the name-change "ridiculous," pulling no punches in their criticism of the decision:
Get creative but don't undo the common sense that goes with geographic locations. It just doesn't make sense to name a key station on an expensive LRT line something so unfamiliar to users.
There's validity to the spirit of this concern, of course; geographically-based station names makes sense. They help regular and casual users orient themselves, and make it simple for tourists to use the system.

I'm just not sure "LeBreton" is significantly more relevant than Pimisi as a station name. Just because we currently know the station as LeBreton (and the area as LeBreton Flats) doesn't mean it's got special value; it's simply the name we've used historically. It's not as relevant as, say, Parliament (a signifier of the destination nearby) or Rideau (denoting a major street and shopping centre).

When transit users get off at LeBreton, the flats themselves are not their destination except for a brief few weeks during Bluesfest. People who get off their more than likely one of the following: Local residents who'll manage under either name; public servants heading to Gatineau who'll manage under either name; or people headed to the Canadian War Museum for whom the name LeBreton helps no more than Pimisi will.

I'd probably feel differently on this topic if it was a switch being made at a random time, but the name-change is happening as a component of a much more significant change: The establishment of a radically altered transit system. If riders aren't overwhelmed by the change to light-rail transit, then I think they'll manage through the short-term adjustment of referring to a station as something new. Before long, Pimisi will be as recognizable a destination name as LeBreton is today.

I'm sure not everyone agrees with me, though. What do readers think of the name change, and the adjustment that it will necessitate?


Auxonic said...

I think it's a little strange but it could work if they'd rename one of the streets. How about the oddly doubled Wellington St? or Booth north of Albert st.

david said...

Go back to your point about LeBreton. It's not about some special, inherent geographical kharma; it's just that most Ottawans already know what you're talking about. If I said "I'm in LeBreton," you can guess my location within a few hundred metres.

If you choose a name that no one knows, you have a massive education effort ahead of you, and it will likely still fail. I lived in Toronto for six years, and still got mixed up about station names on the Spadina Line like "St Andrew" and "St Patrick", because they didn't relate to anything most Torontonians know or care about. In the end, Toronto realised its mistake, and started going with dull-but-meaningful names like "St Clair West" and "Eglinton West" for the stations further north on the line.

Unknown said...

I don't mind the name Pimisi.
I don't drive and as a transit user, I usually prefer station names based on a destination or neighbourhood/area more than street names. Unless the street is a destination itself, like Elgin St or Sparks St. Names like Blair or Tremblay don't mean much to me because I don't drive so I don't use those roads. And streets sometimes stretch really far and cover more than one neighbourhood. I liked Lebreton because it's the name of the area. I probably would have kept it. But like mentioned, it's no longer what it used to be. Pimisi is unique at least, easy to remember. The theme of the station will be aboriginal. They may rename Victoria Island to something aboriginal as well (maybe rename it Pimisi to go with the station). And that area can be a landmark destination with its redevelopment. So I'm ok with it. The Tremblay one was the one I had more issues with.

I think people will get used to all names in any case. Our system is small compared to big cities so it should be fine.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the assertion "people headed to the Canadian War Museum for whom the name LeBreton helps no more than Pimisi will" is incorrect. If you read any War Museum handouts or website directions, they refer to their location as being on "LeBreton Flats". Ditto with Bluesfest. Unless the city changes the name of the Flats themselves to Pimisi, the station name will not be useful. And such a name change would take many years to catch on, as evidenced by the fact that I still hear people refer to "The Corel Centre".