Mourning the monorail; looking ahead


Photo courtesy of Vlad Oustimovitch, remembering the monorail-that-wasn’t, on the date once touted as a potential opening day.

First, the background for newcomers: The concept of a citywide Seattle Monorail – eventually envisioned as starting with the “Green Line” between West Seattle and Ballard – passed several city votes dating back to 1997 before an uproar over its financing plan led to one last vote that killed it in 2005. The monorail agency already had been set up and was collecting money from car-tab taxes; it had bought property in West Seattle that has since been resold, some of which is just now being developed, such as the parking lot behind Petco that’s becoming Mural, and the ex-Video Vault spot in Morgan Junction that is becoming the new Beveridge Place Pub and a neighboring park. (Other sites, from their original pages, included: 35th/Avalon, 35th south of Avalon, the former Herald office further south on 35th.) So on this Opening Day That Wasn’t, you might wonder, what’s next for mass transit in West Seattle, considering that Sound Transit light rail isn’t pointing our way? Some interesting ideas can be read on the Sustainable West Seattle Transportation Action Group blog; regarding more concrete plans, two public meetings are set in West Seattle next month for the “RapidRide” bus plan (both dates are on the WSB Events page).

31 Replies to "Mourning the monorail; looking ahead"

  • LA in the Junction December 15, 2007 (7:39 pm)

    I’m still so mad about this I can barely stand it. We vote for the monorail, what — four times? And the fifth time the powers that be finally get the vote they want and the monorail is dead? What are West Seattlites supposed to do when the Viaduct comes down? I live in West Seattle and work in Ballard, and the loss of the monorial grieves me every single day. Especially as I pass the football AND baseball stadiums along the way — both paid for with excess taxpayer dollars, but we commuters get no such support from the city. Shameful.

  • Agen Schmitz December 15, 2007 (7:47 pm)

    I’m still so pissed at our West Seattle-based mayor and the other powers-that-be who did whatever they could to bring this down (though, Joel Horn and company could have done better) that I did something I don’t do very often the other day — I flipped the bird to the new SLUT as it was gearing up for its initial voyage.

  • Venkat December 15, 2007 (7:48 pm)

    I’m with LA. People really underestimate the transportation woes in West Seattle, both within WS and from WS to Downtown (or South for that matter).

    It’s really a car-based zone for the most part and as it grows it would be nice to see this change!

  • herongrrrl December 15, 2007 (9:33 pm)

    Amen, LA! All the buses in the world aren’t going to do a thing for those of us trying to get anywhere from WS when they start doing whatever they’re going to do to the viaduct.

  • willow December 15, 2007 (9:55 pm)

    I am just very, very glad that I am now retired, and do have to deal with transportation to downtown during the usual rush hour, and ,yes, the idiot bike riders (thought our views would go away?).

    Our “Green Mayor” apparently doesn’t understand “getting people from here to there”. I am really sorry – unless it’s via some time in the Federal Pen, for his progeny.

    Long live “His Idiocy”.

  • cb December 15, 2007 (10:00 pm)

    I’d like to see a return to the days when Seattle had a city-wide light rail system (RIP 1943). I did not realize how dumb the Monorail was until I saw the new SLUT. Sleek and cheap compared to the Monorail. Perhaps some day the people we elect will see how badly needed an expanded light rail system is for our city.

    Also, why has the Viaduct been put on the back burner? All I hear the Governor talk about is replacing the 520 bridge… what about the 100,000 cars that use the Viaduct everyday? I remember the day after the earthquake… the backup onto the West Seattle Bridge stretched nearly to the Morgan Junction! I still think the best solution is to build a suspension bridge over Elliot bay to replace the Viaduct.

    I predict nothing will change until we have a major earthquake and wide spread destruction. I thought this was a forward thinking city… I wonder how we ever got running water?

    my 2 cents… rant over.

  • grr December 16, 2007 (12:51 am)

    [i]”What are West Seattlites supposed to do when the Viaduct comes down? “[/i]

    I dunno..maybe if we plan ahead and build some great business/office/work space buildings as a business gateway to WS (maybe on the Huling property??), we could take a few thousand cars OFF the WS Bridge/viaduct and be prepared for the eventual Viaduct Rebuild From Hell?

    That monorail was a boondogle from the get-go. And the $100 mil debt it ran up before getting the plug pulled is simply a travesty.

  • djake December 16, 2007 (6:01 am)

    all of this, whether light rail, mono rail, viaduct, all points to the tremendous leadership void that I have observed in this city since I moved here 8 years ago. I know that there has been much negativity expressed towards developers in recent months, however they seem to be the only ones with enough leadership savvy to get things accomplished. When they have a vision, granted their motives may be less than admirable at times, they seem to be able to see it through despite opposition. In the end, the very development that we despise may be what saves us when we become isolated with the impending demise of the viaduct. It has been written…”where there is no vision, the people perish”…as well as every worthwhile idea ever proposed to this mayor and his council.

  • CandrewB December 16, 2007 (6:57 am)

    The mayor never liked the Monorail from the beginning. I think it is because he feared he wouldn’t be able to raise mvet taxes for his precious tunnel vision. He lost my vote at that point and just about everything he has done since has been bush league.

  • Kayleigh December 16, 2007 (7:00 am)

    What frustrates me is that many Seattle-ites have this idea that something should be exactly as they, personally, want it or else they vote against it. A lot of people didn’t like exactly where the monorail was so they worked against it.

    I admire the spirit of community involvement and standing up for what you believe in, but sometimes this turns into NIMBY-ism and refusal to compromise and ultimately, nothing getting done at all.

    As was the case with the monorail. :0(

  • pam December 16, 2007 (8:13 am)

    I find the WS>Downtown service to be Not That Bad. I’d like to see more frequent service down here at the Gatewood end, but the compromise, the bike/bus combo has served me very well. Seeing RapidRide listing WS>Downtown makes me wonder if the folks making the plan even take the bus. A-hem.

    WS>Alki? Now THERE’s a problem. Pack a lunch and bring water, because it’s gonna take all day, you might as well take the car. Even with the water taxi shuttles… we once waited 45 minutes to get the shuttle and then, had to transfer at the junction to Gatewood bus. WTF? (I’d love to see a WS>ALKI trolley. No, Westwood Village >Alki!Woot!)

    And WS>East side? If you’re going to the mall, it’s okay, but anywhere else, it’s ridiculous.

    I fear CB’s comment about the Viaduct is true. When the quake takes it down, we’ll fix it, and not a minute before. San Francisco, etc, ad nauseum.

    Rant,rant, rant.

  • Vlad Oustimovitch December 16, 2007 (12:42 pm)

    Whether or not you supported the monorail (I did), the failure of SMP has to be seen as one of the greatest planning disasters in WS history. The final cost to taxpayers is far more than the $110-120 million spent with nothing to show for it. Plans for the Green Line meant that WS was not included in any future expansion by Sound Transit; if you look on any Sound Transit plan WS is a just big desert. That means we are at least 30 years away from getting anything that will replace what the monorail would have brought us.
    Streetcars or light rail are not a viable option because crossing the Duwamish requires a highly elevated structure – which eliminates both those technologies. Bus Rapid Transit could technically work, but requires a widened Spokane Street viaduct, which has no funding after the failure of Prop.1 (it would cost well over $100 million just by itself). The other part of the BRT equation is that the 4th Avenue ramp promised when we voted for the nickel (not Mayor Nickels) tax a few years ago does not have sufficient funding. Add to that the problems with the limited capacity of the Fauntleroy corridor, and you have a BRT system that will have fast looking buses stuck in a worse bottlejam than we already have.
    For these reasons I mourn the murder-suicide of the monorail, dead before it was born. R.I.P.

  • Al December 16, 2007 (3:37 pm)

    You bet I’ll attend at least one of those transit meetings. I rely on the bus service and bicycle for getting into/out of downtown on a regular basis. It’s too expensive to drive and park and I can get home faster by bicycle than by bus. If you noticed, the rapid ride program isn’t due to start for another 2 years, 2010, and the viaduct/Spokane St work is, I believe, due to start en force next year (if I’m wrong, please correct me)…a bit late to really be effective in helping get mass transit options to W Sea quickly which is going to be hit HARD with major traffic woes. Also, has anyone noticed that the press keep reporting about the “tunnel” that’s going to be built? Methinks there’s been a decision made but no ‘official’ statement yet…? Are we going to be saddled with a tunnel? We have no options but the bus at this point (the monorail was a great plan that was forced to change by the city so often, after it was voted in that it could never be viable – a sad day) so coordinating bus service with ferry service will be crucial (not only in and out of W Sea but a better line or two that serves only W Sea would be great.

  • grr December 16, 2007 (3:59 pm)

    listening to ya’ll reinforces even STRONGER in my mind that a Paul Allen style investor needs to get over hear and build a REAL business center in WS so that we don’t HAVE to go downtown to work anymore. I’m speculating that there’s enough $$ in WS to get those ‘branch ‘offices up and running here if the infrastructure was in place. I’d certainly move my business here if I could.

  • chas redmond December 16, 2007 (8:39 pm)

    Here’s an actual question to ask everyone: If you had the following choice, which would you make?

    choice 1 – RapidRide from Fauntleroy Ferry terminal down Fauntleroy then onto California straight through the Junction and then right on Alaska to 35th, then down Avalon and on the ramp;


    choice 2 – RapidRide from Fauntleroy Ferry terminal down Fauntleroy to Alaska and then right to 35th and down Avalon and onto the ramp.

    Advantage of choice 1 is it covers California Ave. Disadvantage, it will change the feel and vehicle distribution/density on California Ave.

    Advantage of choice 2 is that it will be much faster. Disadvantage is that it will cause people on California Ave. to have to walk a few blocks to catch it. Secret advantage: There’s probably high-density development going up soon on Fauntleroy near Alaska and this route could be a better long-term route.

    Which would you choose?

  • Barry December 16, 2007 (11:48 pm)

    “What are West Seattlites supposed to do when the Viaduct comes down? I live in West Seattle and work in Ballard, and the loss of the monorial grieves me every single day.”

    Do what 99% of all West Seattleite neighbors do, LA in the Junction: drive your car, the same way you always do.

  • Jan December 16, 2007 (11:58 pm)

    Chas….neither…I live in the Admiral District.But then that’s another story, huh…it’s an interesting question you pose. For me, if I was in that area, I would probably go for the least amount of walking, as I have arthritis, use a cane temporarily.

    This evening I had to pick up a friend at the U-Haul at 35th and Morgan to bring her back to the Adm. District…took all of 10 minutes to get here from there. If she has had to take public transportation, it would have taken her an hour. So…not only is the bus transportation to downtown from WS a bit lacking at times, the transportation within West Seattle is sometimes downright terrible. She’s from Idaho, and leaving Seattle permanently, but..her question was…what has Mayor McCondo done for his own back yard lately…?

  • Vlad Oustimovitch December 17, 2007 (8:16 am)


    Try option three: Keep the Rapidride on Fauntleroy the whole way, don’t gerimander a public transportation by making it do turns on Alaska or anywere else. If BRT is going to be a light-rail substitute, it has to operate as such. Straight and fast. The unexpected Huling situation is a perfect opportunity to widen Fautleroy to accommodate BRT and make the surrounding area into a well planned transit oriented development. If done correctly everybody will benefit, including the developer(s). If only we could get City Hall to get interested in doing some planning here like it has in Lake Union and elsewhere.

  • Al December 17, 2007 (8:33 am)

    Um, Chas, that option already exists – it’s called the 54 Express.

  • m December 17, 2007 (9:32 am)

    The Huling parking lots should be turned into a Park and Ride so that people who don’t live near the junctions can drive there to catch a bus quickly.

    The lack of solutions from the various transportation agencies makes me think that they are not even thinking about what will happen here when the viaduct comes down (which doesn’t surprise me, as there rarely seems to be any forward thinking past 10 minutes occurring in this city). More bus service is great, but when the viaduct is a pile of rubble, those buses are going to be stuck in traffic on the bridge and on surface streets. Walking out of WS will be faster than driving or bussing out.

  • elevated concern December 17, 2007 (9:52 am)

    The third option proposed by Vlad is the only viable option for West Seattle. Keep all busses on the arterial so that it serves the north side of Fauntleroy as well. No way should it turn off of Fauntleroy onto Alaska and then turn again on 35th. It’s a straight shot on Fauntleroy to Avalon. The triangle district is the new West Seattle downtown that will generate alot more B&O taxes than the junction business can. Please, can we have some leadership that will propose that the Junction District persue the Main Street funding and get it restored.

  • SLK December 17, 2007 (1:23 pm)

    I think grr said it best… the less people who HAVE to go downtown, the better the traffic situation is going to be. Let’s ENCOURAGE development in West Seattle’s commercial zones so that we can more self sufficient without needing to cross the bridge so often. The best bus transit in the world is still going to be stuck in traffic on the bridge when 99 is closed.

    Maybe option 4 should include RapidRide to the water taxi.

  • seattle golfer December 17, 2007 (7:19 pm)

    The transportation corridor through West Seattle is Fauntleroy. The pedestrian corridor, I stress pedestrian, is Alaska from the Junction to 35th street. A tree lined boulevard from 35th to the Junction will take cars off the roads, busses out of our Junction and make it a walking neighborhood. You are going to see density added at he Huling flagship, Alki lumber, the not owned by Huling corner of Fauntleroy and Alaska, Tervo’s grocery and the Mastro site within two years, not twenty years. Save some green space while you’re at it, please.

  • Chadman December 17, 2007 (8:31 pm)


    I suggest we go where the density is, not just necessarily the way the crow flies (or the 54 Express :-). Everyone, takes a sober look at the density map, including whatever buildout may/may not happen at Fauntleroy and Alaska. Then we all agree to it once and for all, and agree to move on.

  • grr December 17, 2007 (10:17 pm)

    Park and Ride simply won’t happen anywhere near the Triangle. That property is WAYYY too valuable. Now…some underground parking is a strong probability there. ..

    It’s just SO easy (especially with the ‘picture’ of the Whole Foods building on the banner) to visualize a vibrant business/retail/office Gateway in the Triangle. All it really needs is an architect with A VISION to NOT put up a bunch of ugly squares, but to capture the essence of WS. Built it and they WILL come.

  • chas redmond December 17, 2007 (10:43 pm)

    Maybe the Chamber and the WSJA should host an open house with local developers, land owners, architects, citizens and media and come up with a reasonable first-cut at a grand West Seattle Triangle vision. I like the way this is moving – I can already hear someone saying “I’ll meet you at the Caffe Ladro in the Triangle.” Okay, Fauntleroy is the transitway.

    Would you terminate a RapidRide West Seattle route at the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal or at Westwood Village?

  • Wm F. Wendt, Jr. December 18, 2007 (8:30 am)

    Is this the same Vlad Oustimovich who was in Chicago a few years ago?

    I am not quite sure I can mourn the demise of a rubber-tired, supported monorail, although the discrediting of an entire concept is a cause for grief.

    It is high time monorail advocates get their acts together. Has there ever been any systematic discussion of supported v. suspended monorail, wheels v. maglev, the differents kinds of wheels and maglev?

    Without that, promoting monorail is like promoting “dog” when promoting German Sherperd, Labrador, border collie, etc. would be far more to the point.

    For quite nuts and bolts reasons I favor a vehicle under a standard steel beam, propelled and suspended by a Linear Induction Motor.

    LIM might sound a bit scary at first, but you have several rotary induction motors around the house in fans, blenders, maybe even an old-fashioned clock. A LIM is little more than the nail with a wire wrapped around it, as in the grade school science experiment.

    About 3/8″ under a standard steel beam (with maybe a little extra copper content for conductivity and corrosion resistance) it generates magnetic forces along the line of travel and about ten times as much toward the beam, perpendicular to the line of travel.

    Since a vehicle with standing passengers can safely only accelerate one-tenth g anyway, this works out. Caster wheels keep the LIM from clamping to the beam or the vehicle from falling. A variable inverter allows the frequency to be matched to the speed, unlike synchronous maglevs. Also, propulsion and suspension is accomplished with one LIM, as opposed to propulsion and suspension magnets in other magleves, and as opposed to complex, expensive, maintenance intensive propulsion, suspension, and braking systems in duorail vehicles.

    Being a pendulum under the single beam, the vehicle does not need complex. bulky structure to keep it from tipping. Together they block very little light and make about as much noise as an elevator. Needing little more than columns every eighty feet or so for a footprint, it can go over existing roads or railroads, or across open fields without disrupting very much.

    A suspended monorail could allow the vehicle floor to come within inches of the ground if desired. This could be for just one ground level station or for several, in which case it would function as a trolley system. The LIM version could climb a 10% grade also, if desired, to shorten the approaches from an elevated level.

    The vehicle need only be a skid that a bus can drive on and off, putting some real “rapid” in Bus Rapid Transit.

    Heavy-duty versions might move 40 ton trucks, for one possible entry-level application, unclogging congested ports.

    Unfortunately unlearning is much more difficult than learning. This technology needs a demonstration project beyond an amusement park.

    Any ideas? An takers

  • JE December 18, 2007 (11:28 am)

    cb: The SLUT may look “sleek and cheap” compared to the monorail, but keep in mind it serves a few blocks, as opposed to all the way from WS to Ballard, and…. it’s really slow! Which makes it just pretty window dressing. I’d rather pay lots for something that serves a useful function than a little bit for something useless and cute.
    Extending the streetcars to WS would have the same problem–it has to go slowly enough to be safe in traffic. We don’t need to spend money on a slow transit system.
    Let’s hope the “Rapid” Ride is actually rapid. I doubt it can be, and still be safe for the pedestrians, cyclists, and cars it must share the road with.
    I wish Mayor Gridlock a lump of coal in his “green” stocking!

  • Blair December 19, 2007 (8:21 pm)

    I rode the South Lake Union Trolley on Saturday, the 4th day it was open, and ironically the day Joel Horn had originally projected that the new monorail would open.
    The trolley took ten minutes to travel 2.6 miles on a Saturday morning with very light traffic. How long would it take during a rainy evening rush hour or after a major event at the Seattle Center lets out?

  • Kevin Rosinbum March 25, 2008 (9:49 am)

    There are many appropriate views here. I am still angry. I can wax for days on this subject, but the bottom line is that a handful of property owners galvanized the public (slowly but eventually) against the monorail and assassinated it. My anger stems from the fact that now that teh monorail is out of the way, nothing, but for some vague plans and tiny roots of ideas, exists to fill the void. We may as well roll the clock back to 1992. Except that now we have more people, more cars, more emissions, and more anger. This city is a self-centered joke.

  • Daren December 9, 2008 (1:06 pm)

    West Seattle! Don’t let those last few months of the SMP kill your support when you supported it for YEARS prior. We need to show that we still want our monorail system to downtown and that this time, we won’t have anymore finance problems as significant as previous transit projects in Seattle. A quality monorail system is something we deserved for years…

    I plan on moving to West Seattle when we get it built!

Sorry, comment time is over.