Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Might Possible UDC-SEU Merger Eliminate Directional Confusion?

IS THERE SOMETHING in my sidewalk stature that suggests I excel at giving street or transit directions? In the past three days, I've been asked for directions on four different occasions including yesterday's "Yo, where's the bread store?!?" question from a lost driver on Court Street here in Brooklyn (Caputo's, naturally!) to some French twentysomethings lost in the maze of the Atlantic-Pacific Street subway complex trying to get to Times Square (Uggh, really? Times Square? Either the 2/3 express via 7th Avenue; the N or Q express via the Manhattan Bridge and Broadway; or the R local via the Montague Street tunnel and Broadway ... Sacre bleu! Choices!).

While it's indeed easy to find Times Square when you emerge from the subway, I wonder what the navigational mess it'll be if the University of the District of Columbia combines forces with Southeastern University in Southwest Washington, D.C.

From The Washington Post's Susan Kinzie we learn that the University of the District of Columbia plans to open a second campus for two-year community college programs. Sources tell The Post that UDC hopes to merge with Southeastern, which is a private college.

From my observations, a merger could mean other things, including the elimination of the pesky-but-not-really-important directional confusion surrounding the whole Southeastern in Southwest D.C. thing.

But there's more navigational madness: Just examine the official directions on SEU.edu!

The following are just the first four parts of the eight-part step-by-step instructions on how to get to the Southeastern campus from the L'Enfant Plaza Metrorail station:

• Exit L'Enfant Plaza Station using the L'Enfant Plaza exit. This exit is marked by signs throughout the station and distinguished by a round portrait of an astronaut standing straight up with arms to the side (not angled and waving).
• There should be a shoe shine station at the top of the escalators and a newsstand to your left. Take a left. [ed.: This is the site of Gene Weingarten's Joshua Bell experiment]
• Exit through the bank of doors and go down the stairs. You will now be facing the back of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD] building. A small park should be at your right and the HUD Creative Child Development Center [a gated playground] at your left.
• Take a left at the playground and pass briefly under the HUD building, heading towards the parking lot and the street.
And that's all before you have to cross over the I-395/Southwest Freeway! (Which Ward 8 Council member Marion Barry wanted to turn into a ceremonial extension for Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, which violates some basic cartographic and wayfinding principles.)

Photo of Southwest Freeway/Michael E. Grass Archives

You could, however, just use the Waterfront-SEU station on Metrorail's Green Line, but SEU's directions from there require seven different steps, including exiting through a parking lot adjacent to the M Street SW Safeway location.

Anyhow, as The Post notes, UDC doesn't have a second location in mind. But let's say Southeastern's campus is combined with UDC. Does that require a name change for the Waterfront-SEU station? Metrorail station name changes aren't always so easy.

UDC's Van Ness campus (... do I dare say it? ... near North Cleveland Park!) was once located at Mount Vernon Square, where the Washington Convention Center is today. It's been known under different predecessor names and existed as different institutions since it was founded in 1851, e.g., Miner Normal School, Wilson Normal School, Miner Teachers College, Wilson Teachers College. UDC as we sort of know it today formed as a merger between D.C. Teachers College, Washington Technical Institute and Federal City College in the 1970s.

See UDC's full official evolution on the official history page and background info and related links below.

Maybe this new move will ease the school's identity crisis ...

» "UDC Plans to Operate Two Campuses" [WaPo]
» "UDC History" [UDC]
» "Locations and Directions" [SEU]
» "Southwest Freeway: Isn't It Already Named for Dwight Eisenhower?" [Washington Oculus]
» "'Change Agent' to Lead UDC" [WaPo]
» "UDC is a School to Retool" [WaPo]

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