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:


Continued coverage of Seattle's Monorail Media Wars from your Favorite Transit Pundits.

Seattle's architects are divided on the monorail; some support the plan while others fear that monorail structures will impede views, make streets less pedestrian-friendly create urban blight The chair of the Seattle Design Commission called in early September for computer-simulation videos or an actual mock-up to "inform the public about the physical reality" of the project A "town meeting" in late October attracted 140 PAYING spectators ($5 per head -- we hope that a certain well-known consulting firm doesn't hear about this idea!) to hear a debate on monorail aesthetics A previous town meeting, featuring a debate on ridership and costs, attracted 90 people.

Seattle's monorail infatuation has attracted attention from the national media, including National Public Radio and the Christian Science Monitor; see also

Various monorail critics and opponents complained bitterly that the media treated the monorail plan as if it were "Home on the Range:" Seldom was heard a discouraging word (even if the skies were cloudy at times). Then, early in September, the first round of CAM's television ads began to appear The media seemed almost in denial at first, and some still manage to ignore the trend. However, as we've described before, poll results suggest substantial erosion of support since late September. By late October, polls showed a lack of "critical mass." Tax measures generally do not pass unless pre-election polls show a secure margin of at least 55 percent in favor, and a relatively small share of "undecided" responses. A large share of "undecideds" -- up to 9 out of 10 -- eventually turn into "no" votes. Seattle media missed the story, but rejection of the monorail plan appeared the more likely outcome at least two weeks before the election.

The October 20 "Seattle Times" featured a point-counterpoint pair of columns by Mike Layton, a freelance writer and journalist (pro; and Richard Borkowski, president of People for Modern Transit, which promotes walking, cycling and light rail (anti;

An FOC amplifies the latter column by pointing out that automated lines in Detroit, Jacksonville and Miami recover only a "miniscule" percentage of operating costs from fare. Conventional rail systems have much higher cost-recovery ratios, such as Washington, DC, Metrorail (70 percent) and the San Diego Trolley (67 percent). In Canada, the automated Vancouver Skytrain system carries 130,000 passengers per weekday, but Calgary, with conventional LRT, attracts more boardings per route-mile.

The "Seattle Post-Intelligencer" also ran a pair of "point-counterpoint" columns on October 20, by Tom Carr and Kristina Hill (pro;, and by Henry Aronson, former Port commissioner and head of the opposition group Citizens Against the Monorail (anti;

Another FOC reports that Aronson also opposes light rail, and that the arguments advanced in his column resemble those he uses against light rail. Aronson evidently never met a highway plan he didn't like.

Monorail supporters repeated in mid-October their intent to develop a 50-mile citywide network over 20 years but, as usual, money remains the major uncertainty. We doubt that a city the size of Seattle has the necessary tax base to finance expansion of this magnitude with local funds. Prospects for federal funding are, at best, limited.

Citizens Against Monorail sought to obtain various ETC documents through the state public-disclosure procedure, then went to court to obtain other documents and e-mail transcripts, including personal e-mail and computer records of ETC officials. On October 21, the opposition scored: a King County Superior Court judge ordered ETC to turn over the materials. This action was justified, opponents said, because ETC officials used personal e-mail addresses and computers while assembling the plan submitted to voters. ETC responded that it had voluntarily handed over more than 100,000 pages of documents, withholding 1,000 pages dealing with personnel matters or confidential legal advice. The monorail campaign manager said the opposition was simply trying to raise last-minute doubts.

ETC's executive director said that the agency would appeal; the Superior Court judge stayed his order to permit this. On October 23, an appellate court commissioner ruled that ETC did not have to turn over the requested documents since the court did not have time to review each document

A monorail skeptic and FOC (“Friend of the Cabal,” = “Fellow Traveler”) believes that the tax increases necessary to pay for the project would drive local businesses out of Seattle. This FOC also notes that ETC could not receive a federal bailout without performing an alternatives analysis -- one that would pass muster with FTA, we add.

However, some business interests do support the monorail -- or, at least, have made strategic campaign contributions By October 21, the pro-monorail campaign reported $367,053 in cash and donated labor. The donor list includes corporate heavy hitters such as Starbucks, Goldman Sachs, the Seattle Mariners baseball team ("heavy hitters" . . . get it?), Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen's Vulcan, Bombardier and "numerous engineering and construction firms." (The last items ought to raise an eyebrow or two).

Of the 507 reported donations, 381 were for $100 or less. Other contributors tossed dollar bills in a fishbowl outside the homes of ETC Chairman Tom Weeks and monorail activist Cleve Stockmeyer, who have hosted weekend parties.

In contrast, Citizens Against the Monorail reported 64 donations of cash and labor worth $29,830. Opponents look like underdogs . . . until one takes a thoughtful look at the polls.

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