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September 23, 2005

Monorail Stopped In Its Tracks

Well, so much for that transit project.

I just finished listening to the Seattle City Council unanimously approve a resolution to deny the monorail permits for building and right-of-way. They also agreed to do everything possible to get the state legislature to dissolve the monorail project. Basically, the council is concurring with Mayor Nickels, who demanded that the monorail return to voters with an improved plan. The monorail board refused and the city pulled the plug. Absent city permitting approval, the monorail's already troubled bonds will become anathema to investors, thereby essentially killing the project.

So barring something completely unforeseen, the monorail is effectively dead. But while the corpse is still warm, Seattle needs to conduct a thorough post-mortem.

Around the office here, I am was known as something of a rabid monorail proponent. Obviously, I was aghast at the ridiculously flawed financing scheme this summer that put the monorail on a collision course with the mayor and council. Still, I remained hopeful that the monorail board would revise their plan and come up with something credible, even if it was for a less extensive line.

One thing I'd like to see investigated--apart from the chicanery or incompetence of the monorail board--was the unreasonable hostility to the monorail that emanated from city hall and other city leaders. Despite consistently strong support from voters, the monorail made little headway with many decisionmakers, some of whom seemed predisposed to hate the thing at every step along the way. I wonder if that hostility didn't help create a culture of defensiveness and secrecy in the monorail project that ultimately led to its undoing.

City officials probably did the right thing today in the face of a recalcitrant monorail board. But I'd argue that the blame for the project's failure lies partly with city hall, as well as other institutions like the Downtown Business Association. I'd like to see some soul-searching from our leaders about the fractious and close-minded civic culture that stifled the monorail.

We should, of course, continue to debate the merits of transit alternatives. What is cost effective? What is efficient? What is politically possible? And what do ordinary residents--as opposed to engineers and billionaires--actually want to see in our fair city?

More importantly, we need to acknowledge a basic truth: there will never be a perfect transit system (or road project, for that matter). If we agree that we need better transit in the Emerald City, we should stop hunting for perfection and start looking for something practical. And we should do it with a quickness.

Posted by Eric de Place | Permalink

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Comments

I *told* Alex is sounded more like a Shelbyville idea.

Posted by: Jamais Cascio | Sep 23, 2005 3:32:10 PM

Indeed! The politics of this civic fiasco (no one whatsoever looks particularly intelligent) are incredible. Do you realize that the majority of the SMP Board was appointed by the Mayor and Council? The details and permutations and personalities of this thing are novelistic.

Posted by: David Sucher | Sep 23, 2005 7:30:28 PM

Indeed! The politics of this civic fiasco (no one whatsoever looks particularly intelligent) are incredible. Do you realize that the majority of the SMP Board was appointed by the Mayor and Council? The details and permutations and personalities of this thing are novelistic.

Posted by: David Sucher | Sep 23, 2005 7:31:33 PM

Good.

Posted by: Joseph Willemssen | Sep 25, 2005 4:24:46 PM

I am so angry about this I can barely talk. Expensive as it may have been, the monorail was our shot at getting a mass transit system, and now we have nothing. What next? Spend another ten years voting, over and over, for a system that will most likely never get built either? How many times is Seattle going to kneecap itself like this? How many decades is this absurdity going to continue? The longer we wait, the more expensive the project is going to get, and the more disruptive its construction will be. We could have had the monorail running by the end of the decade. Now that's probably about when the politicking over the next proposal will start up, and if we're lucky maybe we'll have something built by 2020. Whatever we do finally end up with, I guarantee that we're going to be looking back at the monorail proposal and laughing at how cheap it would have been by comparison if we'd only built the damned thing when we had the chance.

Posted by: Mars Saxman | Sep 25, 2005 4:56:24 PM

I feel the same way, Mars. I am dissapointed, no, I am incensed, at the Mayor, the Council and frankly the SMP Board doesn't look very good either. But I place most of the blame on the senior politicians (Mayor & Council) who have far more experience and appointed 4 of the Board members now sitting and are putting this marvelous opportunity at risk by their inaction and passive hostility.

My own response has been to request return of my campaign donations.

Posted by: David Sucher | Sep 25, 2005 7:25:42 PM

It is incredible that the City Council and Mayor blames the SMP board for the financial problems. Remind me again, who appoints 7 of the 9 SMP board positions...oh yeah, it's the Mayor and the City Council!! If they saw trouble and were truly committed to seeing the project be a success, they should have taken proactive measures long ago to aid the project instead of sounding this 11th hour alarm.

Posted by: Rodney Rutherford | Sep 26, 2005 1:09:48 PM

It is incredible that the City Council and Mayor blames the SMP board for the financial problems. Remind me again, who appoints 7 of the 9 SMP board positions...oh yeah, it's the Mayor and the City Council!! If they saw trouble and were truly committed to seeing the project be a success, they should have taken proactive measures long ago to aid the project instead of sounding this 11th hour alarm.

Posted by: Rodney Rutherford | Sep 26, 2005 1:10:19 PM

PG-13 version:

-One thing I'd like to see investigated--apart from the chicanery or incompetence of the monorail board--was the unreasonable hostility to the monorail that emanated from city hall and other city leaders. -

Sadly, the writer answers his own question here.

Since the politicians have to be reponsible for the loony outcome of this transportation equivalent to Intelligent Design, naturally you would expect to see some skepticism on the part of those WHO ARE SUPPOSED TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THESE PROJECTS.

Joel Horn and Tom Weeks are trust fund babies who simply rode off into the sunset. The Mayor and the City Council are elected to stick around for a while. And if the autocratic leadership of the monorail authority had actually been interested in "transparency and democracy," Mr. Sucher, I'm sure the city could have found a couple decent appointees to join the board. But, of course, the SMP was doomed from the get-go. Even the earlier ETC was rotton to the core, run with a cult-like fervor.

-And what do ordinary residents--as opposed to engineers and billionaires--actually want to see in our fair city?-

Cost effective? Nice to know some are already priming themselves to repeat this debacle all over again. Blame the engineers, the same way the New Right blames science.

How's about some transportation expertise at NW Environmental Watch?

Posted by: TransitEnthusiast | Sep 27, 2005 2:52:32 AM

"And if the autocratic leadership of the monorail authority had actually been interested in "transparency and democracy," Mr. Sucher, I'm sure the city could have found a couple decent appointees to join the board."

What does this mean? You mean that the SMP Board told the Mayor and Council whom to appoint?

Posted by: David Sucher | Sep 27, 2005 11:20:57 AM

TE,

You write, "Cost effective? Nice to know some are already priming themselves to repeat this debacle all over again. Blame the engineers, the same way the New Right blames science."

Uh... Isn't a good thing to figure out whether a project is cost effective? I have no idea why asking whether a project is cost effective is tantamount to blaming the engineers. Or maybe you're incensed that I contrasted the views of lay people to those of engineers. Seems like there are some differences that would be worth sorting out.

Posted by: Eric de Place | Oct 1, 2005 10:28:56 PM