News Clips— Railroaded?

SEATTLE HATES light rail! Or loves it. We don’t know. It depends on how you ask the question.

If you believe a poll released last week, commissioned by light-rail foes including former King County Council member Maggi Fimia, seven out of 10 King County voters want to ditch Sound Transit’s 14-mile, $2.1 billion light-rail proposal and switch to expanding the monorail instead.

But if you believe the light-rail-or-bust crowd down at the King County Council, voters will agree with anything if you know how to skew the questions. Council member Dwight Pelz was so incensed by the poll that he called his former colleague Fimia “a complete hypocrite” who “wants the public to believe her lies.”

Who’s right? Decide for yourself with the help of these sample questions from Fimia’s poll: Would believing that light rail “will not relieve congestion and will cost far more” than monorail make you more or less likely to vote for light rail? Or would the statement that light rail will run “like a streetcar” at 20 mph turn you against the $2 billion system? Could you get behind a new proposal to build “monorail and state-of-the-art express buses?”

According to Fimia’s poll, voters agreed overwhelmingly: Monorail delivers more and costs less than Sound Transit’s expensive light-rail system. The problem is no one knows exactly how much monorail will cost. Nor has anyone proposed a countywide “monorail and express-bus system”; Sound Transit already operates express buses in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties, and monorail wouldn’t run outside Seattle’s city limits. And no one in their right mind would argue that any mass transit system would “relieve congestion”—buses don’t, light rail won’t, and neither, as even Fimia concurs, will monorail.

The point is, mass transit is expensive, takes years to build, and is almost always controversial once it gets past the everything-to-everyone phase. That’s true for light rail and will likely be true for monorail, whatever the relative merits of each. Specious arguments over whether light rail or monorail would relieve congestion or whether light rail will “only average 20 mph” don’t help. How fast do buses go in rush-hour traffic? That’s one question the anti-light-rail poll never got around to asking.

Erica C. Barnett