No Love for the Monorail

Archivo-Springfield_Monorail_1Yesterday, I was one of the 19.6 percent of Seattle voters who voted to expand the Seattle monorail.

I knew it was going to lose even as I filled in my ballot, but I had to do it. I will always support public transportation, and I will definitely always support monorails, because 20 years ago I watched The Simpsons.

The monorail ballot initiative, aka Citizen Petition No. 1, has an interesting backstory. As the Seattle Times wrote:

This time, rather than a movement, the idea of a monorail extension was steered largely by one activist, Elizabeth Campbell of Magnolia, who campaigned virtually alone.

The Seattle Times notes that “The campaign raised less than $5,000, mostly from Campbell, and did virtually no advertising,” which explains why I hadn’t heard anything about the initiative until I cast my I-knew-in-advance-it-was-doomed vote. 

Currently, the Seattle Monorail (built in 1962 for the World’s Fair, back when people still tried to one-up each other by building cool things for World’s Fairs) runs from the Seattle Center’s EMP Museum to Westlake Center, aka “downtown Seattle’s dead mall.” It is largely a tourist attraction. When my folks were in town yesterday for my birthday, we totally rode it. It feels space-age and nostalgic at the same time—which makes sense, because the original space age was 50 years ago.

The monorail extension would have run from West Seattle to Ballard, two places which are reasonably well served by buses but could use faster transportation options. It would have cost $2 million a year, which probably means it would have cost more than that and taken more years than expected. It would have added a third public transportation system—one that, notably, is currently cash-only and does not accept Seattle Orca cards—to Seattle’s bus and metro system. There are so many reasons why expanding the monorail is a terrible idea.

If the question had been “do you want more monorail or more metro and buses,” I would have picked more metro and buses, easily. But that wasn’t the question.

The petition also states that the monorail would have been funded by “imposition of a $5.00 fee on vehicles subject to relicensing tab fees registered within the city.” I don’t know a lot about planning monorails, but I do know that I read the petition and thought “oh, so it won’t cost me anything, since I don’t own a car.” I suspect someone else read it and thought “I own a car and never use public transportation, and I don’t want to subsidize it.”

So Seattle will not be expanding its monorail this year. On the plus side, Transportation Benefit District Prop 1: Bus Funding, to “fund preservation of transit service on existing routes primarily serving Seattle that are proposed to be cut beginning in 2015” at the cost of “an additional annual vehicle license fee of $60 per registered vehicle with a $20 rebate for low-income individuals and authorize a 0.1% sales and use tax” passed.

I voted for that one, too.

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