I take great pride in the Seattle Jewish community’s commitment to tikkun olam, the obligation to make the world a better place. From aiding the homeless to feeding the hungry, to helping those with HIV/AIDS, the Jewish community can be counted on to support progressive efforts.
In our commitment to tikkun olam, however, we must keep in mind that some programs - no matter how feel-good - may not promote community betterment if they are not well thought out or if they conflict with other, more-needed programs.
I am a strong supporter of mass transportation. It is essential for both economic and ecological reasons. Ironically, it is because of this commitment that I support Initiative 83, which would stop construction of the Monorail’s Green Line. While we have been discussing the monorail, we have already started construction on a regional mass transit system based on light rail and we are working to address the imminent loss of the Alaska Way Viaduct, both essential and expensive projects. The Seattle Monorail would take $1.75 billion dollars of Seattle-only tax dollars (costlier than anything Seattle has ever built) to build only one line, from West Seattle to Ballard. It will not integrate with the regional system, has no funding for the rest of its lines, and has recently substantially downgraded its capacity, stations and aesthetics.
The monorail is a project that on the surface "feels good," and so our every instinct is to support it, but we have to look beyond feeling, and when we do so, this expensive "go it alone" monorail line just does not make sense.
The monorail does not complement or even coordinate with the regional transit system under construction - a system that combines a wide range of funding sources, including Seattle dollars. Voting yes on Initiative 83 is our chance to ensure Seattle’s focus on the cooperative system we’re already building.
Further, when we look at the facts the monorail board is willing to reveal about the system - they received only one bid and are keeping that secret - we see a very troubling picture. First, the monorail has chosen not to provide any parking near its stations, so it will have to rely on Metro diverting buses to feed the monorail. Metro has no resources to do that. Even more troubling, the monorail has no arrangement with Metro for transfers and will be charging a separate fare for the monorail ride, so riders will have to pay two fares. They will also have to wait during a transfer, all for a savings of about a minute and a half for the average ride. This is not an overall improvement for most riders.
Then there are the limitations of monorail technology, which was dictated by initiative rather than adopted by transit analysis. monorail allows only elevated trains. Light rail can be elevated, on the surface or in tunnels, making it much more flexible in our hilly, watery terrain. The monorail, for example, cannot use the tunnels that regional rail will use, and requires giant concrete structures above streets blocking views throughout Seattle.
In response to serious financial miscalculations - its tax income is 30 percent below projections - the promised monorail has been significantly degraded. It now has many one-track sections, which slow the system and limit capacity. The stations - and hence the train length - have been cut to 90 feet as opposed to the 400 foot regional rail trains, and the difference in ridership capacity is instantly apparent. The monorail’s optimistic ridership projections have always been questionable. Now that it’s slower and smaller, it appears certain to fall short.
Finally, the monorail does not address existing traffic problems. It doesn’t run near key existing traffic choke points, and there is no plan for park-and-rides at stations. The monorail’s own projections show that very few current auto commuters will use the monorail.
All of these concerns have fed a broad movement to make a course correction from the current monorail plan. Initiative 83 arose in an environment where a straightforward recall was rendered impossible by monorail-inspired state laws. In short, it is our only chance to say yes to another plan.
Remember, we would be paying for the Green Line for 40 years. At $1.75 billion, it would be the most costly public project ever proposed for Seattle and would undoubtedly require substantial ongoing operating subsidies. There is no state money, no county money, no federal money for the monorail.
"Go it alone" may have seemed fine several years ago before the regional plan got underway, but now we need to build on the regional plan, designed for the next 40 years with funding from a broad range of sources. It’s not a matter of monorail or nothing. It’s a matter of having a focused mass transit system that will leave Seattle a better place for future generations. A yes vote on I-83 is the first step toward that goal.