Monorail’s trail

Who really loves the monorail?

HERE’S WHAT Mark Sidran had to say to The Seattle Times about the monorail after it was approved by voters in 1997: “Now that we’ve taken care of horizontal, let’s take care of vertical. Let’s bring back the Bubbleator [a ride from Seattle’s 1962 World Fair].”

And here’s what he had to say about it in 2001: “Monorail has real potential to improve mobility and may prove a cost-effective alternative to light rail everywhere.”

What happened? Monorail mania happened, and politicians started realizing it was political suicide to speak out against a system that had overwhelming support, not just among the true believers, but throughout the voting public. Light-rail foes became monorail supporters as Sound Transit increasingly emerged as the enemy du jour, and suddenly everyone—from down-ballot candidates like conservative Republican Pam Roach, running for election to the King County Council, to mayoral hopefuls such as Sidran—was on the monorail ticket.

The question many monorail supporters are asking is: Will it stick? Harolynne Bobis, a board member of the corporation chartered to build the monorail, the Elevated Transportation Company (ETC), says monorail supporters shouldn’t be fooled into lying down with the enemy. She and several other monorail stalwarts held a press conference blasting the city attorney for leaping on board the monorail after fighting as recently as last year to keep city funds from the ETC on the grounds that “the City Council need do nothing” to fund the monorail, approved in initiatives passed in 1997 and 2000.

It’s that Mark Sidran that Bobis and some monorail supporters want you to remember. “Sidran is being duplicitous in saying he supports monorail,” she says. Kevin Orme, a monorail supporter who calls Sidran a “jackbooted thug,” adds, “It’s just a little too convenient to think of [the city attorney’s] current support for monorail as deep-rooted.”

But slowly, a number of monorail supporters are warming to the city attorney despite serious reservations about his record and the depth of his loyalty to their cause. Friends of the Monorail (FOM), a group that opposes light rail and supports the ETC, plastered a photo of Sidran on the front page of its October newsletter and ran, unedited, an excerpt from the candidate’s “transportation action plan” that lambasted Sound Transit for its overbudget, off- schedule light-rail plan and mentioned monorail as one possible alternative. (Friends of the Monorail, of which Orme is also a member, does not endorse candidates.) FOM member Jerry Johnson says that, even though he doesn’t know whether Sidran will come through for monorail or not, for him, the election comes down to a choice between a candidate who “talks of halting the outrageous financial hemorrhaging in Sound Transit” and one who “speaks of devoting his life to the light-rail cause.” Take a guess who Johnson’s voting for.

Then there’s Emory Bundy, the outspoken monorail supporter and Sound Transit foe who’s spent the better part of the last two years fighting the transit agency’s PR machine. Bundy’s reasons for supporting Sidran are numerous, but the main reasons remain his “stalwart opposition to Link light rail” and his “sympathy” for monorail. Although Bundy supports the monorail in principal, he hopes Sidran will be as “hardheaded” on the ETC’s proposal as he has been on Sound Transit’s. “I hope he would want to be satisfied that, when the facts are in, it’s a reasonable investment that genuinely merits support,” Bundy says.

Grant Cogswell, who’s running for Richard McIver’s seat on the City Council on the premise that monorail (and, more generally, transportation) is the issue, says Sidran has no business calling himself a friend of monorail. “Mark Sidran’s taking advantage of the way the tide is moving,” Cogswell says. “Greg Nickels was there to help the ETC get a grant it needed to survive [last year], and Sidran’s been nowhere on this.” The problem for Nickels, Cogswell says, is that he’s painted himself into a corner with light rail and now has nowhere else to go. “Greg could win this in a walk if he just said, we need to take a second look at [light rail]. Because he’s refused to do that, I think Mark Sidran’s going to win.”

Nickels’ allies hope that isn’t the case. They’re banking on a strong PR effort to jog Seattleites’ memories about what they call Sidran’s long record of opposition to alternative transportation. But whoever wins, FOM’s Orme says, will have a long string of public statements supporting the monorail to live up to. “If they aren’t true to their word, they have a one-term [mayorship] staring them in the face.”