Head vs. Heart

MY HEAD AND HEART are having a battle over the monorail.

My frontal lobes, which have been suspicious since day one, take a look at the evidence presented by my colleague Erica C. Barnett ("Not So Fast") and pronounce the matter resolved—this little engine might think it can but can't. My heart won't let go, however, smitten not only by the technology but also, more important, by the dream.

MY BRAIN: A complicated transit system that involves crossing two waterways and navigating a litigious urban environment cannot give reasonable cost estimates when its design is only 5 percent complete. To make matters worse, monorail is a relatively unknown technology that has never been used on this scale in North America. Every transportation project of this magnitude goes over budget.

So it's going to cost more than $1.7 billion to get from Ballard to West Seattle. How much more isn't clear. Where the rest of the money will come from is even foggier. Remember, there is no federal or state sugar daddy involved in this project. This baby is coming right out of Seattleites' wallets.

The line will get shorter—count on it. How short? Citizens Against Monorail's Henry Aronson predicts an Interbay-to-Harbor Island route, which strikes me, too, as likely. This is process-crazy, bleed-stuff-to-death-with-pinpricks Seattle, after all.

MY HEART RESPONDS: There is no such thing as a bad investment in public transit. Even if you only produce a crappy little starter line—say, from downtown to Tukwila—you get the thing up and running, and people like it. They support it, and you can extend it.

Brain: How much longer do we have to listen to this sentimentalism? We're going to spend billions to poach some riders off Metro buses. The ridership numbers of 69,000 people a day might as well have been cooked up by WorldCom. Americans love the idea of their neighbors using public transit so the roads will be clear for them to drive their SUVs. But they won't use it themselves.

You can tell the monorail planners are all drinking the Kool-Aid when they predict the system will pay for its operations from the fare box alone. No U.S. transit system does that. Rainy, suburblike Seattle, with its vast tracts of single- family housing, is not going to be the place where that trend is reversed.

According to monorail opponent Tim Hatley, the population of the areas surrounding the proposed line is only about 188,000. There are no park-and-ride lots planned to support the system, and you expect me to believe that one-third of the neighborhood is suddenly going to hump on down to the corner monorail stop just because riding up in the sky is so darn much fun?

Heart: Think of the view going over the Ballard Bridge! Over the West Seattle Bridge! The ride will be smooth. You will glide along up in the sky above the traffic. There won't be any herky-jerky, stopping-starting, diesel-belching bus to contend with. The current little monorail from Seattle Center to Westlake Center attracts 2.5 million riders a year all by its lonesome. I've been commuting on the bus in this town for 26 years. I deserve a monorail!

Brain: Quit beating so fast—you're going to kill us! Once this thing starts up, it's going to take a Special Forces team to kill it. The current board has rigged the game so it either appoints or has veto power over seven of the nine members of the new board. Where did they go to study democracy? Florida?

Once the costs start to spiral out of control and the lawsuits from neighbors mount, in order to pull the plug, you'll need 60,000 signatures to even put the question on the ballot. Yet, in a cynical end run, without any oversight by our directly elected officials at the Seattle City Council, the backers put it on this November's ballot with only 3,700 signatures.

Heart: That is so unfair to the good citizens who have carried the monorail on their backs. Only in Seattle could a madcap cabbie like Dick Falkenbury launch a dream that is embraced by the entire city! They have selflessly fought City Hall and the Chamber of Commerce to keep the people's train moving forward. This spirit of Seattle will sustain the monorail and make it succeed despite all of the obstacles you raise.

Brain: Stop the Muzak, maestro! Falkenbury couldn't manage a hot-dog stand, let alone a multibillion-dollar transit system. This is the huckster who told us the monorail would be built by private investors and paid for with latte shops at the stations. Now all the developers, the money men, and the Seattle Commons people have mounted a hostile takeover of his little dream because it suits their scheme to turn Seattle into Manhattan by the Sound. Falkenbury is being taken for a ride. That doesn't mean the rest of us have to be.

Heart: Well, you might be a far defter debater than I, but when it comes right down to it, we both know we've done much stranger things for love than simply cast a ballot.

ghowland@seattleweekly.com

 
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