The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal

Informed but opinionated commentary and analysis on urban transportation topics from the Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty.

Our Mission: Monkeywrench the Anti-Transit Forces

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Tuesday, October 29, 2002


"It is the unfortunate destiny of the ridiculous to be subject to ridicule."
James Howard Kunstler

From the Cabalmaster:


The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal continues its coverage of Seattle's Monorail Media Wars.

"FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD" ("New York Daily News," October 30, 1975)

"BUILD THE MONORAIL, DAMMIT!" ("The Stranger," July 13-19, 2000)

The headlines were classic, but the series of articles published by "The Stranger" was less memorable. For websurfers unfamiliar with Seattle, "The Stranger" is a "lefty" free weekly, that, as one Friend of the Cabal (FOC) put it, has about as much credibility as the "National Enquirer." It also makes a point about living up to its image, being "strange."

We Opinionated Ones note with interest that the first local media outlet to begin asking pointed questions about the monorail (after a fashion, anyway) was Seattle's OTHER free weekly, the ( . . . you guessed it . . . ) "Seattle Weekly" This put a different "spin" on the light rail v. monorail theme:

"For the last six years, I have written, edited, and read hundreds of articles about the slow, terrible implosion of light rail. Every time I think it cannot possibly get any worse, it does: cost overruns in the hundreds of millions; tunnel disasters on Capitol Hill and in the Rainier Valley; staff resignations; federal fund retractions; route changes; fewer riders; more costs; rejection by the Tukwila City Council!"

"Now when I think about spending $1.7 billion for 14 miles of monorail, I think: complicated, expensive, risky. Can Seattle actually move forward with a [mono]rail line in 2002?"

". . . What we need here is a group of intelligent, hostile opponents who have some power over this project and will pick every nit and turn over every rock. Fortunately, we have them: the Seattle City Council. . . . Unfortunately, the council members seem a bit timid. This is probably because previous efforts by the City Council to kill the monorail backfired--resulting in Initiative 53 (I-53), which funded the development of the current monorail plan.

"Their hesitancy also results from the monorail proponents telling our elected representatives essentially to butt out. 'We've briefed the full City Council several times. They've asked us many questions. I-53 says they are supposed to refer our plan to the ballot,' says [ETC board chair Tom] Weeks.

"King County Council member Dwight Pelz, D-Seattle, is one of the few elected officials with the guts to call bullshit on this bum's rush. 'It's time to ask hard questions. I've been a little bit amazed that the monorail people have tried to intimidate the City Council into not asking questions.'"

"As Pelz so rightly observes, 'We debate everything to hell in Seattle, why not the monorail?'"

Nearly two months later, a "Post-Intelligencer" columnist blasted the monorail plan as "a waste of time and money" Demonstrating the existence of at least SOME intelligent life at the "P-I."


Two monorail critics filed paperwork in early August for Citizens Against Monorail, a campaign organization Co-treasurers were Henry Aronson, a former Port of Seattle commissioner, and Jack Mackie, a Seattle Design Commission member. Other CAM members include: former Seattle Public Utilities director Diana Gale, former City Councilwoman Dolores Sibonga, University of Washington architecture professor Jeffrey Ochnser and UW professor emeritus Folke Nyberg. (Nyberg has monorail ambitions of his own:; see also

Monorail opponents said the line would depress downtown land values, block views, fail to solve traffic congestion and that the plan amounts to a "blank check" drawn on taxpayers

Aronson labeled the plan as "a fantasy in the air, adding, "This may well be WPPSS on wheels." (WPPSS, pronounced "whoops," refers to the failed Washington Public Power Supply System nuclear power program of the 1980s.)

The ever-enthusiastic Falkenbury responded, " . . . The fact that [the monorail] doesn't do everything for everybody is a ridiculous nonreason to not begin building a solution." (Untie that syntax, Dick; sounds like there ARE reasons NOT to build the monorail!)

Falkenbury also urged monorail supporters to be courteous. (How "Seattle!")

The organization formed to campaign for monorail approval is "Monorail Yes! Campaign." Its co-chair, Peter Sherwin, admitted that the monorail would obstruct some views but would create "fantastic views" for passengers.

Monorail opponents (and some FOCs) have complained that ETC has violated campaign ethics laws by using public funds to promote the monorail plan. ETC's promotion efforts have been extensive, including two-page spreads in the two major newspapers. We've been advised that monorail opponents have complained to Seattle municipal authorities (the reported response: the bureaucrat(s) "saw no violation").

We're opinionated (that's why you like this blog, isn't it? :-) ), and we think that monorail opponents were off on a tangent on this particular issue. Campaign-ethics laws of this type -- and enforcement of same -- are not uniform. Generally, it's acceptable to use public funds to "inform" voters, but not to "persuade" them. Granted, there is a broad gray area between the two, but "promotion" does not automatically work out to "persuasion."

We acknowledge that ETC would have been hauled into court and gagged long ago in certain semi-feudal domains. (Anyone familiar with the recent transit election in San Antonio can guess which semi-feudal domain we're thinking of!) However . . .

Washington State also has an unfortunate tradition of ignoring laws that might interfere with what the political class wants to do -- or jeopardize prospects for re-election. (For example, local and state officials literally turned and looked the other way in 1990 when the Breda-built articulated dual-mode buses turned out to exceed axleweight limits with just a single passenger on board.) A campaign-ethics action against ETC would trigger howls of protest (and possible retribution at the next election) even if there were a "smoking gun" in the form of overt persuasion. ETC literature has a lot of glowing (and unrealistic) claims, but fails the "persuasion" test. (It fails to persuade us in any case!)

With regard to ethics violations, "The Stranger" went off the deep end in mid-August A "shocking-expose" type story suggested that the presence of a FORMER aide to King County Executive Ron Sims among the anti-monorail campaigners suggested that local officials were working behind the scenes against the monorail. (Check out the story . . . we Opinionated Ones are NOT making any of this up!)

Professor Vukan R. Vuchic of the University of Pennsylvania, one of the world's leading authorities on public transit wrote a guest column for the "Seattle Times" in mid-August

"[The] historic connection with monorail technology may explain why this debate has been resurrected in Seattle decades after this transit system was rejected by many cities around the world. However, sentimental attachment makes a poor basis for selecting a transit system for the future of the Puget Sound region." Vuchic also noted that "Very few cities, mostly in Japan, have built monorails as a transit line." (You read our blog, so you know all about Japanese monorails!)

Monorail supporters then discovered a new sport, so to speak: Vuchic villification No big surprise here.

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