Mike Schuh's YES on I-83 page

I urged a YES vote on Seattle Initiative 83, which failed.

The Municipal League of King County also supported I-83.

Poor Technology, Not A Solution

The current "Green Line" proposal, from the Seattle Monorail Project (SMP) is a poor idea and will NOT solve Seattle's traffic problems. Please see http://www.farmdale.com/transit/monorail.shtml for my dissection of some of the monorail's technical shortcomings. An older essay of mine, which addresses many of these same issues, is at http://www.farmdale.com/transit/ltr-1103.html.

Among the many inadequacies: according to the July 2002 "SEATTLE POPULAR TRANSIT PLAN RIDERSHIP FORECAST DOCUMENTATION",

"At the system level for all transit users, savings per board is estimated to be 1.85 minutes..."
(page ES-2, the 7th page of the PDF document). Is this really worth $1.75 billion? Saving the average rider less than 2 minutes per trip? Metro routes 54 and 55 take just 10-12 minutes to travel between downtown (First Avenue) and the Alaska Junction; the Green Line is projected to take over 17 minutes. No, the Green Line is not worth building. The same page in the above study includes predicts that
"One important aspect of monorails in particular and enhancing transit service in general, is the potential for attracting new transit riders. These riders, who are primarily auto users, are estimated to be about 18 percent of the users of the monorail system. The majority of monorail riders, 82 percent, are diverted trips from the existing transit trips in the system."
So why are we building this?

Monorail Proposal Has Changed

The current proposal is very different than what was presented just two (2) years ago.

Consider the following changes:

(See this 2002 ETC ad for some of the things that were presented then that since have been changed.)

Monorail supporters point out that Sound Transit changed a lot of details in the LINK light rail from what was presented to the voters. Certainly this is true, and was even the subject of a lawsuit that reached the Washington State Supreme Court. I have my criticisms of LINK, but at least it is a technology that is amenable to modification. If we so desire, we can change LINK. On the other hand, monorails, literally as well as figuratively, tend to be cast in concrete.

Two! Yes, Two! Rail Transit Agencies

If SMP continues, we will have two (2) publicly funded agencies, SMP and Sound Transit, competing to build rail systems in Seattle. They will compete for geographic territory (who gets to build where) and political power, as well as for our tax dollars to fund this competition. To think otherwise is decidedly naive, and ignores the behavior of public agencies in America (and just about everywhere else, I suspect). While many cities around the world are served by multiple agencies, these different agencies typically serve different customers. New York City is served by Metro North, which runs long distance commuter trains up the Hudson and into Connecticut; LIRR, the Long Island Railroad commuter trains; PATH, which runs trains across the Hudson to New Jersey; and the subway system, which is inside the city. Given our geography, Sound Transit's LINK light rail will serve much of the same area that the duplicating SMP phase two plans to serve. We don't need two rail agencies.

But we need to do something!

I have heard two assertions, first that we need to do something about our terrible traffic. I agree, but the Green Line isn't a solution. Most of Seattle's traffic problems are well outside of the Green Line corridor, and most of them (I-5, I-90, SR-520) are caused by commuters from outside Seattle.

Between 1970 and 2000, the population of Seattle grew by 6%. During this same 30 year period, the population of King County outside of Seattle grew by 87%. We need a regional system, not a Seattle centric one. Furthermore, of all the traffic that crosses the Ship Canal, only 10% uses Ballard Bridge. I-5 and the University Bridge handle 57%, and that's where our scarce transportation dollars should be spent.

The West Seattle Bridge carried about 107,000 vehicles a day in 2003, down from the 111,000 it carried in 1996. This is less than the combined traffic on the Aurora and Fremont Bridges. This suggests that it would make more sense for the Green Line to follow the Aurora Avenue corridor, not 15th Ave. NW (when was the last time traffic on 15th made the news?). (Reference: http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/tfdmaps.htm)

The other assertion is that, when gas prices double, we might wish that we had a rail system in place. Again, I agree - and LINK is already under construction, and we have a functional bus system.

We do need to something, however - we need to stop the monorail. Letting it proceed will allow it to dominate Seattle's transportation planning for decades to come, and suck up a lot of tax money in the process.

Another Monorail Vote?

It is true that I-83 won't dismantle SMP nor stop the MVET tax, but passage will signal voters' disenchantment with the proposal. The state law that enabled the creation of SMP, RCW 35.95A does include a provision for "Dissolution of authority", but the requirements are really tough to meet (depending how they are read, either 15 or 30 times more difficult than those required to create SMP). How, then, can we stop the monorail? The current City Of Seattle Initiative 83 is pretty much the only way.

Numerous criticisms of this choice (to file I-83) have been raised:

We already voted three times for the monorail.
Actually, the story is very different. The 1997 vote on I-41, Dick Falkenbury's feel good proposal, required private funding and such things as a station within 1,000 yards of the Fremont Troll's nose. After two year's of trying to find private investors (and trimming the proposal to a downtown circulator to make it more attractive), the original ETC had nothing to show. The city was wise to junk this turkey - please read the resolution repealing it for an explanation why. (I encourage you to read the initiative for yourself; another on line copy is here.) The 2000 vote (I-53) authorized funding to study and propose a monorail - which is not the same as voting for a monorail. The 2002 vote (Proposition 1), which squeaked by with the slimmest majority seen around here in a long time, was for either a "concept" or an actual plan (I've heard both assertions from monorail supporters). Whichever, the current proposal is not what we voted on. Please see http://www.monorail.org/History.htm for a brief history of Seattle monorail initiatives. Among other things, there were two failures (??? and I-39) before the 1997 vote.
(It is important to note that in each of these, the technology - monorail - was chosen before the route was. In other words, "we want to build a monorail, now where should we put it?" Usually, projects like this proceed with "we need better transportation capacity in this corridor, how shall we provide that?")
The initiative is costing money that could go to other things.
It is costing the City Of Seattle $890,000 to place the initiative on the ballot - this is the fee charged by King County, who runs the elections. This is a chunk of change, no two ways about it. I note, however, that it is significantly less than $1.75 billion, and is less than the $20 million that the City loaned SMP in "start up funding". Besides, who said democracy was efficient and inexpensive? (Side note: Friends Of The Monorail claim "The monorail wasn't even taking any money from the City until we won the 3rd election..." which is simply false. The ETC had a budget, drawing on the City's general fund.)
We will never be able to build public projects if the voters can stop them.
I partially agree, and I submit that if a public project is disliked by a majority of the voters, then it probably shouldn't be built ("consent of the governed" and related principles come to mind). Years ago, voters approved a major expansion of freeways in the region. A few years later, voters decided to not build them. If the current argument "once voted on, we shouldn't vote again" had prevailed 30 years ago, today there would be a freeway through the Seattle Arboretum.

Hopefully a strong yes vote on I-83 (my fantasy is >55%) will lead to SMP's eventual dissolution (which, yes, most likely would involve another vote).
Please vote YES on Seattle Initiative 83!
Thank you, and thank you for taking the time to read this.

Please see http://www.farmdale.com/transit/monorail.shtml#websites for a list of relevant web sites.
Last update: July 6, 2005 14:19:57 PDT
To Mike Schuh's home page
Mail (but not spam) is welcome to:
schuh AT farmdale D0T com

Thank you for the visit.