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First apologies for the follow up post, I don’t think I can easily fit everything into comments to the original thread. I got some great comments from, Al S, AJ and William C, and Guy on Beacon Hill did some field work downtown! The most pressing question I think is about turn radius. I had envisioned going above, or if necessary taking the small, 60s office building at the corner of 5th and Union (or above the Banana Republic for Pike), but Guy was right, that would still be too tight. While I couldn’t get find the original ALWEG turn radius, the Malaysian trains, which are very similar, have a minimum radius of 70 meters. Not enough for the 5th and Union turn. Should have double checked. However, that lead me to a slightly different alignment which might actually be better in terms of competing with fewer views and presents a rather unique opportunity to leverage a second stranded asset.

Here goes:
Abandon Westlake. The station would have to be rebuilt anyway to make better connections with Link and to fix the unfortunate pinch point where they narrowed the guideways when they built the new station in 88.

Instead turn from 5th on to Olive. This would require going above McGraw Park and the two story BofA building and/or taking it (possibly to create a new station.) This would still offer nice connections to Link and the expanding streetcar system. This would yield a turn radius of 110 meters.

From Olive the line could utilize the space above I-5 to turn to reach either Pine to reach further into Capitol Hill (option A) for an east running route or Boren (option B) to reach the hospitals on First Hill. Again, I think this alignment leave room for the turn.

The Pine street alignment could reach further into Capitol Hill with a stop perhaps at Pine, 16th and Madison where the 7-11 is. From there, it could be extended as far east to 23rd and the down 23rd all the way to the I-90 stop or even Mt. Baker. The turn from Pine to 23rd could be above the City Light marshalling yard, which should yield sufficient radius. Running the line to the I-90 station would be 5.3 kilometers.

Alternatively, the Boren route, suggested by William C would better serve the hospitals and the redeveloped Yesler Terrace. Possible station location could be in the parking lot at Seneca and Boren, or the parking lot at James and Boren. This route, too could be extended all the way to I-90 or Mt. Baker without and a single sharp turn. The Boren route to I-90 would be 4 kilometer. Both extended alignments are here.


Finally, there is the prospect of building a station as part of the Convention Center expansion on the site of the former Convention Place Bus station. First, it would be in the Convention Center’s interest to have a station. Second the city has some leverage now in the permitting stage, especially as the WSCC and the developers want to vacate Terry. Finally, the WSCC has some commitments to Metro as part of the purchase agreement to sustain bus access for a period of time. Perhaps that could be traded for a monorail station? Personally, I think having the Monorail running inside a glass tube above the main exhibition hall would be cool, but there’s obviously a number of way to incorporate the station. Perhaps the abandoned bus tunnel from Convention Place to Westlake could be turned into moving walkways? Perhaps having its own monorail line would reduce the need for parking?

Again thanks for all the great suggestions. Where is the more pressing need, First Hill, or going as far east as possible? Best station locations?

20 Replies to “A Slightly Less Modest Monorail Proposal”

  1. I’m having a bit of an issue figuring out what you have in mind. May I suggest Google Maps. If you have account, it is pretty easy to “draw” a map, and then share it. I did this with my proposal for a new Metro 8 bus route, after the SR 99 tunnel (AKA Bertha) work is done:

    Speaking of which, this is starting to look like a poor man’s Metro 8, and for that reason, it is worth exploring. This isn’t an ideal routing, but is still very good, and if it could be built affordably, I think it would likely be a better value than the previous proposal. There is usually a penalty, if you will, for above ground transit. It takes a while to get up there (especially since much of our system is underground). For small distances, it just isn’t worth it. But not only does this solve that problem by going a bit farther, but it also connects to the above ground line at Judkins Park. This means the Central Area finally gets mass transit.

    I would go one (small step) farther and connect to Mount Baker. Now you’ve made the connection from Rainier Valley (and the airport, and the southern suburbs) to Bellevue much faster. If done right, it is a three seat ride, but still faster than going all the way to I. D. and back. Both transfers could be done at the same level (or very close to it) making for a fairly quick transfer (although the devil is in the details). Meanwhile, Rainier Valley has a fast connection to the Central Area, something that is long overdue.

    The biggest challenge, by far, is political. Not only is the city (and region) not creative when it comes to transit, but we tend to pursue solutions without much thought. So we dismiss gondolas — despite the fact that we are well suited for it — and build streetcars (despite the fact that we are terribly suited for it) — because that is what other cities are doing. We build light rail lines to Fife and Ash Way, while much of the central city get nothing. Belltown is the most densely populated census block in the state; the Central Area is the most densely populated large region in the state; and even forty years out they get nothing. We build a bike share system that completely ignores common practices (i. e. sufficient station density) and then when it predictably fails, we blame the hills, the helmets, or the weather. We assume that the only way out of traffic is to build a light rail line. Not a new freeway ramp, not a bus tunnel — it must be light rail. In that sort of political environment, I doubt that a bold, creative solution — even if it penciled out — would get a fair hearing, as folks would dismiss it as being weird. Good luck. Nice idea, but my guess is nothing will come of it because our leaders (and the folks that follow them) are not creative enough or knowledgeable enough to consider it.

    1. Yeah it’s an interesting mode question – if you are going to do a straight shot, a bus/bus-lanes usually makes the most sense – something like Madison BRT or the Central City Connect street car, which are center-running & transit only.

      But if you are going to zig-zag throughout central Seattle to connect the relevant destinations, you are so divorced from the street-grid that going grade-separated makes more sense. If $$$ is no option, you build a tunnel. Otherwise you elevate … and if it’s an urban-only line that people are taking short distances, gondolas may make more sense than monorails.

      Probably best to map out the destinations and look at route options, and then secondarily address choice of mode. A map as Ross suggests would be great.

    2. Thanks Ross. I did embed hyperlinks to maps made in GIS because I wanted to address the turn questions. Are you not able to open those? They link to my flickr account. I realize they’re not beautiful but I want to be precise on the geometry.

  2. If the issue is turning radius, doesn’t Denny-Boren pop out as the easiest angle on the street grid? Not sure if this is what William C was suggesting, but basically you’d run along Denny to serve uptown (and interface w/ the ST3 station in the Denny Triangle), and then turn down Boren and have stations at:
    -Yesler and/or Jackson

    That ends up serving First Hill more than Cap Hill, but it makes for a great grid as it’s perpendicular to all the primary bus corridors. To fix the more traditional Metro 8 Uptown-CapHill corridor, I think a better option is a simply bus-only bridge over I5 at John or Thomas and pull the Metro8 off of Denny and onto a (bus-only??) Thomas. The issue with Metro 8 is really a Denny/I5 interchange issue, so if you fix that you’ve solved the core problem.

    As Ross suggests, you can continue a Boren gonadal/monorail onwards down Rainier, but as Rainier is much wider I think a better investment is bus-only lanes. Getting the 7 to center-run between Mt Baker and Jackson would be a big win & cheaper than building a new mode.

    And finally, to serve Belltown, I think the best option is a streetcar or BRT (again, trying to be mode agnostic) along QA Ave and 1st Ave that runs from Mercer to downtown.

    I should probably draw this on a map, shouldn’t I…

    1. Sorry to clarify I’m abandoning 5th Ave and leaving the Seattle Center station via Denny. The Uptown to Westlake corridor will be served by the new downtown tunnel so a new monorail (or gondola) would simply abandon the existing monorail line .

      1. But Link would skip Belltown, I think. The route that’s really made redundant is SLUT.

      2. Right – I think it’s best to serve Belltown with a streetcar/BRT on 1st Ave, rather than an infill station on the existing monorail. The area “east” of the monorail is genearlly within the walksheld of the Denny Triangle station (and SLUT), plus there are still trolley buses running on 3rd. The part of Belltown that is getting missed by ST3 is more towards the water.

    2. I was taking the stations announced by Sound Transit as given, so there will, eventually, be a Link station in SLU, which would imply that a Denny route would be overlap more of the new Link coverage area, and again fail to cover Belltown.

    3. You’ve really thought through transit grid. I like this proposal a lot. So a monorail from It’s existing north terminus to Mt. Baker station creating something like a quarter-circle line to connect all the planned Link lines and BRT before they converge downtown? I believe in creating transit grids, but I wonder how much demand still terminates/originates in the core. I guess the distances are such that even a painfully slow bus connection such as on Pike/Pine isn’t too bad for Capital Hill /First Hill, and Belltown BRT/streetcar? I struggle with this a lot as this is basically a within-Seattle version of the Link service area debate. Do we double down on the closest neighborhoods with fast, efficient service to create largely car-free areas or do we reach further neighborhoods that aren’t as dense (and unlikely to ever be as dense) but for which new transit capacity would offer larger trip-time reductions?

      The grade difference and the spanning of I-5 makes me wonder if a gondola isn’t a good fit here.

      1. To answer your last question – the answer is yes, both. ST3 is doing well to serve the latter, so the proposal here is the serve the closer-in neighborhoods.

        I think the primary demand is still in the core, but the core is being well served with two link tunnels, Madison BRT, a streetcar line, and the 3rd Ave buway. This proposal is to serve trips that aren’t core-centric. Our HCT lines are very radial, with a handful on non-core grid lines ( such as future RR+ routes 44 and 38). Other than the metro 8, we don’t have a good ‘circle’ line, which is why the STB commentariat is so keen on a metro 8 subway.

    4. I agree that it would be relatively easy to serve Belltown efficiently with BRT or a streetcar branching off the center city connector. Still the Monorail guideway is just sitting there… And it’s not simply the construction cost, but the political fights and the EIS and such associated with creating anything new that make utilizing it attractive.

      And I think the idea of extending something that is already there, and known, is just politically less difficult than trying to push a brand new system. Even if the end result is a largely new system we can use the politics of sunk cost to our advantage.

      1. Yeah it’s an interesting trade-off. Do you use the existing guide-way to save on both construction & regulatory costs (i.e. permitting, etc.), or is the technology prohibitively old.

        I suppose once the ST3 tunnel opens, we could shut down the monorail and completely retrofit it. But I think ultimately the existing guideway is rendered redundant once the ST3 stations are open, and that pushes me away from leveraging it.

    5. I just realize that this route is basically served by the frequent route 1074 in Metro’s long range plan (north of Mt Baker)

      1. Have you seen a proposed route or just the intended service areas? It wasn’t clear from the Metro Connects document whether it went via downtown or First Hill.

        In either case can surface streets move buses through this area and across I-5 quickly? Even if we’re willing to carve out some lanes from SOV? I’m doubtful.

  3. I like how you want to test and vision different ways of approaching the problem. I wish more people had the vision to test more than one outcome at a time. I too like giving up on the Westlake station as it enables lots more options.

    Since the new NW/SLU/Ballard line will go to the exact same places (Westlake and Seattle Center), the existing alignment/stations will be functionally useless in 2035 when that subway line opens. At that point, the monorail will also be 73 years old. Its utility could be improved by a Belltown stop, but given the frequency, I’m not sure how attractive it would be.

    With this in mind, I think we have to revisit the intent of the mode in the first place. It’s original intent is to provide a visitor experience. Because the monorail is a significant historic resource, I would suggest that its utility could be best approached as something for visitors and tourists. For example, linking visitor destinations with hotels, which is why a terminus at the WSCC north site at one end, Seattle Center at the other end, and an interim stop near the Westin (and hopefully other hotels) may be a good overall strategy. Maybe have it to connect the cruise ship terminal to Link, and turn it over to the Port. Maybe build one end station under Pike Place market, and curve it along the waterfront (Alaskan Way) and Broad Street (by the Sculpture Garden) to a new Seattle Center end point (maybe with a stop along the Waterfront). After all, its intent is to provide a “view” as much if not more than its intent is to “carry”.

    I just don’t see it’s practicality as a heavy-duty urban route though.

    1. I think Chris is trying to build a line HCT monorail line that serves downtown that simply happens to leverage the existing Monorail alignment.

      However, if the intent is to serve visitors/tourist, then a High-Line-esque conversion becomes an attractive idea. The new Link line renders the monorail functionally redundant as HCT, leaving the primary appeal aesthetic.

      Leveraging the existing monorail infrastructure for a vertical park as the same appeal Chris has already pointed out around avoiding regulatory/permitting costs. Even if the monorail cars & electrical systems are obsolete at 73 years old, the concrete support beams could be in good enough shape to support pedestrian traffic for many years to come? A park conversion would maintain the monorail as a historical monument, and quirks like cutting through the EMP would be retained also.

      It’s important to distinguish this idea from keeping the viaduct as a vertical park – the 99 viaduct was an eyesore that blighted the local area … I don’t think anyone considers the monorail a blight on 5th Ave, and I think the local property owners would appreciate a park conversion for the vitality it would bring to 5th Ave.

    2. *has the same appeal

      Al, if the goal is to connect all the relevant tourist destinations downtown, would that be better left to tour operators and hop-on/hop-off buses, rather than SDOT or Metro?

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