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 the Seattle monorail plan from the Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal:

You may have gathered that your Favorite Transit Pundits are mono-skeptics. We are, and we want to reiterate why. Very simply: the technology choice was made first. Then the route was selected.

In other words, "let's build a monorail, now where do we put it?" Sorta like buying a train set, then deciding where to set it up. Except that this particular train set has a $2 billion price tag.

Not only that: The proposed monorail route was not selected to serve the "priority" travel corridors identified by more than two decades of planning. Instead, the Crown Hill - Ballard - downtown - West Seattle route was outlined explicitly to avoid conflict with the Sound Transit "Central Link" light-rail project -- which does serve one of the priority corridors (two, once funding is secured).

In short, the monorail proposal is totally divorced from anything resembling good planning.

There are many comical, wacky, and just plain bizarre elements of the Seattle monorail story. It will long be remembered as the wildest tale in transit history. We've been amazed, amused and, on occasion, disgusted -- but that's beside our point. Take all this away, and we'd still be mono-skeptics.

One more thing. Anti-rail factions have joined monorail boosters the hopes of torpedoing the Sound Transit project. Another "front" in this "battle" is the pending lawsuit to force a "revote" on the light-rail plan. As we've reported, a King County Superior Court judge said he would issue a ruling by the end of October (whatever the court decides, we anticipate an appeal). A vote for monorail, so the argument goes, is a vote against light rail. Washington State's inimitable initiatives guru, Tim Eyman, makes the same argument for his latest proposal, Initiative 776, on the November ballot statewide.

This "reasoning" overlooks the obvious. Given any semblance of community interest, it doesn't take much to qualify an initiative for the Seattle ballot. This can be accomplished with breathtaking speed, as monorail enthusiasts demonstrated in summer 2002. A non-binding "no-confidence" measure, approved by a convincing majority, would put the Sound Transit board in a precarious position. Companion "no-confidence" votes in other cities within the Sound Transit district would create political pressure that the board could probably not resist. Of course, this strategy might backfire on rail opponents; we're certain they know this and are not willing to take the risk.

University of Washington Professor Emeritus Folke Nyberg continues to promote his "freeway monorail" idea", undaunted by continued criticism from the state's Transportation Secretary; scroll down to "Up in the air."

We don't have a high opinion of Seattle media outlets, but sometimes, we're pleasantly surprised. The "Ballard News-Tribune," a neighborhood paper, published a remarkably balanced story titled simply "On route, monorail support mixed" (Ballard News-Tribune, October 3, 2002).

(For websurfers unfamiliar with Seattle, Ballard is a long-established neighborhood northwest of downtown that was once a separate city. Although absorbed by Seattle nearly 100 years ago, Ballard retains a strong local identity.)


" . . . people who live, work and own businesses along 15th Avenue have very different reactions to what the monorail holds in store for their section of Ballard.

" Most support the plan, and think a monorail will be a tool for development and economic prosperity. Others oppose the measure, either because they don’t believe a monorail will spur development, or they fear it will. And some, whether they plan to vote for or against it, don’t believe a monorail system will get built at all."

The article also contained brief interviews with a number of people. A sample:

“'If I vote for it, I’m part of the problem. If I vote against it, I’m part of the problem,' says Gretchen Tuomi, a commercial loan officer at HomeStreet Bank.

The "News Tribune" sponsored an "information forum" early in October to discuss the monorail. This featured a four-member panel; the two ETC representatives included the mono-guru himself, Dick Falkenbury.

According to an FOC, the major monorail issue "downtown" is obstruction of views by columns, beams and stations, and drips and falling objects from monorail structures to sidewalks and streets below. In residential areas, the major issue is lack of parking and concerns that bus service will be reduced.

A source who attended the forum tells us that most in attendance were taken aback to hear Dick Falkenbury's outline of monorail station issues: these should fit in with each neighborhood, each will get what it wants, and in time stations will "change" to meet neighborhood "needs."

We understand that ETC plans to retain one Clark Kent as its director of station assembly and relocation . . .

Our source tells us that pointed questions and comments from the forum included:

"This project is going to go over budget. I don't believe you folks when you say that it won't. You're never going to build this for $1.7 billion. My question is: are you going to go back to the voters or are you going to shorten the line when this happens?"

"I came here tonight uncertain about how I was going to vote. But I've decided to vote against this because you people refuse to answer any questions straightforwardly."

"Where are the opposing points of view on this panel?"

"I read this Seattle Weekly article and it implicates the URS firm that did your ridership saying the numbers are completely off base."

"Why would we spend $2 billion to replace bus service from the 15 and 18 buses."

One more thing: According to a King County Metro source, as relayed by an FOC, the three principal bus routes between downtown Seattle and Ballard average little more than 11,000 passengers per weekday. That is a remarkably weak ridership base on which to build a costly facility like the monorail.

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