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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Monday, April 28, 2003


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

"Truth passes through three phases: 1) It is ridiculed. 2) It is violently opposed. 3) It is accepted as self-evident." Albert Schopenhouer. In the United States, rail is currently passing through Phase Two.

From the Cabalmaster:

The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal is pleased to resume its coverage of the wacky, comical and just plain bizarre story of the Seattle monorail project.

Unfortunately we were delayed by DSL problems when some moron cut through our line to the CabalBunker(tm); we don't think it was caused by Wendell "Fudge" Cox (he's living with Saddam in the Paris Metro according to an FOC rumour), nor by angry Monorailistas from Seattle, at least we don't think so... :-)

We're opinionated (that's why you enjoy this blog, eh?), but that's not why Your Favorite Transit Pundits are mono-skeptics. If monorails could do half of what their supporters claim, we'd be the staunchest of supporters. Think of it . . . a massive, sweeping pro-transit, pro-urban revolution . . . No more wars to procure oil, no more spills from ruptured supertankers, no more SUVs . . . ALL POWER TO THE SUBSTATIONS! ( . . . yeah, we know, sometimes we should quit while we're ahead . . .)

The fundamental problem with the Seattle monorail can be explained in ten words or less:

The technology was chosen first. Then the route was selected.

(There, you see, exactly ten words! Ain't it pretty?)

In other words:

--"Say, let's build a Monorail!"
--"OK, so where we gonna put it?"

This is sort of like buying a train set from your local "big-box" retailer, then deciding where to set it up. Except that this particular train set will cost roughly $2 billion, or more. (Or, to paraphrase certain right-wing blogs, "THAT'S $2,000,000,000 PRECIOUS TAX DOLLARS!!!")

Another problem: the planned monorail will not serve any of the "priority" travel corridors identified by more than two decades of planning. (The amount of "precious tax dollars" spent for the various studies is in the tens of millions.)

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. (And, so long as planning is required -- as it is by federal law as a condition to receive federal transportation funding -- it might as well be good.)


As just about all intrepid websurfers are well aware, Seattle voters approved the monorail project and a financing plan on November 5, 2002 (. . . a day that will live in . . . yeah, we know, quit while we're ahead).

You had to be there on Election Night, November 5, 2002. You also had to be there as days turned into weeks, and the outcome of the monorail measure hung in the balance. About all anyone knew for certain was that the "official" certified results had to be ready by November 20, the day before Thanksgiving ("Turkey Day" . . . get it? . . . get it??). For a synopsis of the post-election cliffhanger, see this page on the Monorail Society website: .

The monorail measure trailed at first in early returns ( However, monorail supporters were confident, for they had mustered a major 11th-hour ad campaign and "get out the vote" drive. Late on Election Night, the monorail led by 52 percent . . . but this represented about 4,500 votes out of more than 100,000 counted . . . and tens of thousands left to count (, picture the scene in Belltown as monorail supporters chanted "Mo-no-rail! Mo-no-rail!"; scroll down for an unforgettable view of monorail guru Dick Falkenbury "getting down" at the victory party).

With all polling places reporting on November 6 (Wednesday night), the monorail led by 5,000 votes out of slightly more than 100,000. Then the fun began.

Washington state has a permissive law regarding absentee ballots: ballots need only be postmarked by Election Day. Not only that, but the absentee-ballot mailing was delayed by . . . you guessed it . . . the court-ordered change of title for the monorail ballot measure.

On November 7 (Thursday), the beleaguered King County Election Department was awash in about 190,000 uncounted absentee ballots, with up to 70,000 more thought to be in the mail. Seattle accounts for less than 40 percent of the county's population, so not all of these were "monorail" voters. The "yes" margin eroded as each successive day's count was released.

However, the newspapers did not notice that each successive "tranche" of absentee votes grew less "opposed."

From four digits to three, the slender margin of "yes" votes shrunk, then disappeared, as monorail supporters spread conspiracy theories and tales of missing ballots (no, no, no, a thousand times no, we did not make this up:

Meanwhile, FOCs ruminated on the outcome, and steeled themselves for the worst: ". . . a victory for 'them' could be a victory for 'us' as we watch monorail melt down in front of our eyes . . ." ("Us" and "them"? . . . oh, no, a conspiracy!!!)

The King County Election Department took the Memorial Day weekend off, then resumed counting. On November 14 (Thursday), it announced that the monorail lead had shrank to 329 votes, with about 4,000 more absentee ballot.

On November 18 (Monday), out of 184,000 votes counted, the monorail trailed . . . by exactly three votes. Monorail supporters may have spluttered "thousands of beautiful votes and three ugly ones," or something like that.

(The gag line ". . . and three ugly ones" . . . is local Seattle humor, inspired by a sign outside a well-known nightclub: "Hundreds of Beautiful Girls And Three Ugly Ones." An FOC reports seeing the following on a florist's shop: "Hundreds of Beautiful Flowers and Three Ugly Ones.")

Then, on November 19 (Thursday), the count reversed abruptly, to an 868-vote "yes" margin out of about 188,000 counted, or 50.2 percent. The reason: the very last ballots counted were so-called "special ballots" and "add-ons," given to people in case of problems: going to the wrong polling place, not appearing on the list of registered voters, and so forth. In other words, those who were determined to vote, come what may. A small number of uncounted votes remained, but not enough to change the outcome.

Two weeks after the election . . . and the moon was full and bright . . .

(No, we didn't make that last part up, either, although we may plant some wolfsbane at Line's End, the very secret hidden retreat of the Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal, to commemorate the Seattle monorail vote.)

The final count was announced November 20.

The final "yes" margin was 877 votes.

An FOC remarked "This project is certain to melt down, just like Three Mile Island." It will be interesting to see how long it takes the public to turn on this project, given the inevitable cost overruns.

Another FOC wanted to nominate this quote from Dick Falkenbury for "understatement of the year:"

"We're not universally loved, and we better prove ourselves."

(Falkenbury stands a good chance of winning the "understatement of the decade" competition.)

The monorail attracted support along the planned route, but was opposed to greater or lesser extent in most of the rest of the city.

However, the plan also drew strong support from voters in precincts well away from the "Green Line," in particular, Capitol Hill, the University District - Ravenna, and Fremont. In fact, most precincts with the highest pro-monorail vote were located well away from the planned line. All this is revealed graphically by an interesting Seattle Times map.

We Opinionated Ones are monorail skeptics, but we do pay tribute to the grass-roots effort that brought it about.

Even before the outcome was known, the monorail board announced the choice of Joel Horn, on November 16. But it could not take no action because the formal transformation of the Elevated Transportation Company board into the interim Seattle Popular Monorail Authority board awaited the successful outcome of the vote.

More on monorail personnel matters in our next installment.

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