Two Views on Transportation
October 23, 2002

Maria Tomchick

For the Monorail

The debate over whether or not to support the monorail seems to be turning ugly, with the pro-monorail folks lambasting anyone who questions their financial estimates and ridership figures, and the anti-monorail folks unfairly using Sound Transit as an excuse to condemn all transit projects. In the midst of all this, The Stranger, tongue-in-cheek, has urged voters to drink the poison and vote yes on the monorail.

I'm still looking for the poison here. Okay, this is my admission that I'm voting yes on the monorail and the reasons why.

It boils down to this. The opponents argue against the monorail for four main reasons which, for the sake of brevity, I'll call "Eyesore," "Cost," "Ridership," and "Parking."

The "Eyesore" reason is ridiculous. Seattle is full of eyesores, with downtown the biggest eyesore of all. Only an idiot would assume that the new monorail will look exactly like the old one, built 40 years ago. Anyone who's seen the strip-mall-like eyesore that Ballard is becoming (emerging from its industrial-style eyesore past) will laugh when you say the monorail will "ruin the view." What view? The view of that huge eyesore (Harbor Island) from the West Seattle Bridge? Give me a break!

The "Cost" reason is equally puzzling. Post-Sound Transit, the monorail folks have jumped through numerous hoops to appease the "Cost" critics, including having engineers at the state Department of Transportation review the financial estimates of the project. We're not talking about demolishing homes and businesses here, like the light rail line. Nor are we talking deep tunnels under the Ship Canal and Elliot Bay. Nor are we talking pedestrian bridges, bicycle lanes, more stop-lights, or an additional tunnel under Rainier Avenue South. Get it through your head: the monorail is not light rail.

Some folks are saying: that's right, the monorail ought to be built as a regional line instead of the Sound Transit light rail line. They say: I won't vote for this little, rinky-dink line from Ballard to West Seattle, 'cause what I really want is a Sea-Tac to Northgate line. My response to those folks is this: be realistic. You'll never get it, unless this initiative passes. And even if we already had a monorail being built from Sea-Tac to Northgate, we'd still need a line from Ballard to West Seattle to serve those parts of town. It's insulting to refer to them as "nowhere," when they're both two of the fastest-growing neighborhoods in Seattle.

And for those folks who complain that they'll have to pay auto excise taxes for 30 years to support the monorail: so fucking what? We all pay taxes to support Metro bus service right now. What exactly is your problem?

The "Ridership" argument suggests that the monorail is a bad thing because fewer people will ride it than the proponents estimate and that most of those people will be bus riders. Frankly, I don't understand why that's a problem, either. Estimates are simply that: estimates. No one can say for sure how many people will ride it until it's built. Currently, over 22,000 people per day ride Metro buses (and that's just an average; it goes up on game days, snow days, rainy days and at other times). Did anyone foresee that? I doubt it.

Any new technology draws people to it out of curiosity. Some of those decide they like it and they continue using it. Many of those people will be bus riders. Fine. That frees up buses that can be used elsewhere, including my neighborhood, which could use more frequent bus service. Some of those new folks, however, will be drivers and that's a positive thing. Can we imagine what our streets would look like with 100 fewer cars on them? What about 500 fewer or 1,000?

Which brings up the "Parking" argument. If, say 500-1,000 drivers give up their cars and use the monorail instead, where are they going to park? At pay lots, of course. Why are we conveniently forgetting how large civic projects attract smaller businesses like flies to honey? If you think nobody's going to cash in on the monorail by building pay parking lots and garages near the stations, you're dreaming. They build them near bus hubs, as any bus rider knows. Why not the monorail?

I gave up my car 14 years ago. I find it nauseating when people complain about traffic, parking, how hard it is to drive around here, and how it's so important to build more roads. Grow up. Learn to use the damn bus. And don't whine about how "it's so hard!"--because I've been doing it for 20 years.

I'm going to vote for the monorail, not because it will make my life easier--it won't even run anywhere near my neighborhood. I'm doing it because there's no other sane, adult way for the city as a whole to deal with congestion and pollution than to build some mass transit infrastructure. Now, while we have the chance.