Yes on the Monorail
October 27, 2005

Maria Tomchick

I won't be riding the Monorail, but I will be voting for it. Again. Here's why:

It's the only solution for West Seattle. West Seattle is so isolated from the rest of the city that we often think of it as another town altogether. There's no current, reliable, fast mass transit system for West Seattle. While Ballard, the University District, Northgate, Capitol Hill, and South Seattle all have fast bus service, West Seattle buses are stuck in gridlocked traffic on the West Seattle bridge, along with everyone else trying to commute to and from work. Nobody has even tried to suggest a streetcar for West Seattle because of the steep hill and lack of access. Ditto for light rail. That leaves the Monorail, West Seattle's only hope for a decent mass transit system--one that takes commuters off the West Seattle bridge.

Where's West Dravus Street? Ask folks who live and work in the Queen Anne and Magnolia neighborhoods. Also ask them how long it takes them to get downtown on a bus--particularly the folks who live in Magnolia, which has a traffic access problem similar to West Seattle's. But even Queen Anne trolley buses are slooooowwww... and a good argument against building streetcar lines, in case you were wondering. Hop on the Number 1, the Number 2, or the Number 13 buses during rush hour and find out what I'm talking about.

Ironically, the most-traveled section of the Monorail line will be through downtown, where current opposition to it is highest. Once downtown business owners see that their employees and customers use it all the time, their attitudes will change. They won't be so quick to both complain about how Seattle isn't doing anything about our "transportation problem" and then turn around and oppose one of the best solutions for dealing with traffic gridlock and exorbitantly expensive downtown parking. And maybe they'll think twice about opposing mass transit systems in the future. But that can't happen if the line doesn't get built.

No transportation system of any kind pays for itself--not buses, not light rail, not streetcars, and certainly not personal automobiles and new roads. Yet we expect to build the Monorail and operate it on the cheap. Granted, $11 billion is too steep, but the current proposal for $3-$4 billion is not bad, considering the amount of money we're willing to pour into new roads (look at the gas tax, for example, which will be used primarily to subsidize private auto transportation). We have to keep our perspective, or else we'll fall into an anti-mass transit and pro-global warming frenzy of road building. That's a short term cop-out and not a long term solution.

We should build the first stage on our own dime and seek federal funds for the next stage. Unfortunately, Mayor Nickels and the City Council withdrew support for the Monorail before the new interim director could get started in his new job. The new director, however, had some interesting things to say about Seattle's Monorail plan. Like it's one of the best transit construction projects he's ever seen. Like it would make sense to seek federal funds--something no one else has thought of, for whatever reason. Like Seattle appears to really need a Monorail system. He has a point.

And here's something to think about: if we build the West Seattle stage with our own money and it turns out to be as useful as it's supporters say it will (and I think they're right), it'll be a great demonstration to the feds that Seattle is serious about mass transit, and that we ought to have the funds for an expansion of the line to Ballard. Washington's senators and representatives have a lot of experience prying transit funds out of Congress; they did it for the Sound Transit light rail system. Why not the Monorail?

As usual, the politicians aren't leading on this issue, so it's up to the voters to show them the way to go. One more "yes" vote on the Monorail will get them off their butts and working to get it built. And it'll be about time.