It’s not very often that Seattle Transit Blog recommends rejection of a proposal to devote more resources to transit. Indeed, some board members voted for one or more of the monorail’s previous measures. However, the latest incarnation, “Seattle Citizen Petition 1,” attempts to address a real transportation need with a measure that is redundant, technically flawed, and that takes unnecessary organizational risks.
The petition, which would levy a $5 license fee to fund planning of a line between Ballard and West Seattle, is duplicative of recent Sound Transit efforts in the exact same corridor. Worse yet, the monorail plan would exclude promising underground options and alternative alignments like Ballard-UW.
These shortcomings lead to real technical problems. One reason that Sound Transit continually converges on underground alignments through dense cities is the intense opposition that elevated segments generate. Previous monorail plans never really solved this problem, and the current one envisions bypassing major activity centers and transit hubs downtown by traveling along the waterfront, a steep climb they hope to bridge with an added transfer to some other, unspecified, elevated technology, with the attendant transfer penalties and further political fights over elevated guideway.
The historical record suggests that new agencies running complicated capital projects will experience serious problems. Sound Transit had buy-in from local leaders and survived, but the Seattle Monorail Project did not, and didn’t. Petition 1 will needlessly set up a new organization to learn the same hard lessons, and has not cultivated a broad base of support to get it through the tough times. The campaign is promising unrealistically short timetables, as if they are somehow immune to the Seattle process that afflicts every other public works project. Finally, the campaign rhetoric is very much in opposition to Sound Transit and the rest of the political establishment, which bodes ill for the joint planning and scheduling that creates a well-integrated transit system.
This measure’s probability of developing a high-quality transit line is virtually nil. Citizen Petition 1 is a waste of resources that distracts from much more promising and better-developed approaches to solve a real transportation problem. Vote No.
The STB Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Frank Chiachiere, Matthew Johnson, and Brent White.