Friday, July 29, 2005

Questions raised at recent public hearing

The PI reports on some of the issues brought up at last night's public hearing
Michael Taylor of the Friends of the Monorail group estimated that the system would reach capacity west of the West Seattle Bridge within five years because the bridge would carry a single rail...

Queen Anne neighborhood residents were concerned that price negotiations meant stations would be "cookie-cutters," not fitting their neighborhood...

A private structural engineer, Jon Magnusson, questioned why the proposed station designs don't include platforms for switches, which could allow future expansion of the system.
Some serious issues were raised, I'm glad Seattle's residents are keeping their eyes on the whole picture, amidst SMP's current financial problems.

Dick Falkenbury, father of SMP, running for SMP board

This guy definitely deserves a seat at the table. He was a taxi driver when he hatched the idea for what is now the SMP.
Dick Falkenbury, the former cab driver who helped start the push for a new Seattle monorail, said yesterday he's a candidate for a slot on the monorail project board.

He will seek a two-year term in the seat occupied by attorney Cleve Stockmeyer.
Falkenbury for Seattle has a website, but it looks like it was reset [nsfw] to the default bsd placeholder page.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Monorail: What do we do now?

The King County Municipal League, a non-partisan citizen-run group dedicated to "effective and responsive government", is holding their own public meeting on the monorail
August 11, 2005. 7:30pm at Town Hall, Seattle.

Experts and observers of the Monorail will discuss good ideas and dead ends for the Seattle Monorail Project. Panelists and moderator to be announced. Sponsored by the Town Hall Center for Civic Life and the Municipal League of King County. Downstairs at Town Hall, enter on Seneca Street. $5 at the door only.
I've never heard of a town hall meeting that you have to pay to get in to.

This morning's Times has an open letter to SMP from the Municipal League, in which they stress the importance of transparency and accountability
SMP never had adequate transparency. The agency was unwilling to engage in an open and frank dialogue with the public or to provide timely information on important points. For instance, a draft finance plan should have been discussed publicly so that agency assumptions about public views on debt financing could be tested and the plan corrected accordingly. And too often, citizen concerns were dismissed as coming from "opponents," a practice that regrettably still goes on today. A public agency, unlike private entities, may not withhold information and may not choose to whom it will respond.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Where the money goes

MSNBC tracks SMP's budget and follows the money trail. In short, they kept a skeleton crew of under 70 employees by outsourcing much of the legal and consulting work
About $23.8 million of the Seattle Monorail Project's total 2005 budget is slated for consultants, ranging from individuals to large law, accounting and environmental firms. That's one of every four dollars in a $93.4 million agency budget that includes capital costs, or more than half of the agency's $42.7 million operating budget...

By comparison, Sound Transit, operating with a different business model, employs more than 300 people and has a proportionally much smaller consulting budget -- only about 8.5 percent of its operating budget.
Wondering how much the bastards who dreamed up the idiotic finance plan made off with?
SMP also spent almost $250,000 on two consultants whose primary responsibilities included developing the agency's financing plan -- a plan that was scrapped just 10 days after details became public...

Seattle-Northwest Securities, the agency's financial adviser and the firm largely responsible for developing the bond structure plan the agency quickly killed, was paid more than $237,000 since 2003.
SNS was allegedly hand-picked by ex-SMP Director Joel Horn.

Seattle monorail breaks down, literally.

On Friday, the Seattle monorail's blue car inexplicably stopped midway to Westlake Center. No one was injured.

Also, about a month ago we reported that Team Monorail wants back into the bidding process. Last week they got some time at the table with the SMP brass. SMP is telling us not to read anything into it.

Friday, July 22, 2005

SMP Cuts 20 Jobs

As reported last week, SMP was deciding on the number of positions to cut, anywhere from 15 to 25. Today they announced that 20 is the magic number
Seattle's monorail agency yesterday announced it will lay off 30 percent of its staff and nearly half its full-time consultants to cut costs while it figures out what's next for its embattled project.

Acting agency Executive Director Tom Horkan said about 20 of the project's 67 staff positions will be eliminated, including about 10 of 22 employees who earn $100,000 or more annually...Seattle Monorail Project (SMP) spokeswoman Natasha Jones said the cuts will save about $370,000 a month.
the interim Director Tom Horkan was previously the Director of Construction.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Updated monorail sketch

Quick on the heel's of Tuesday's rendering, Cascadia has released a slightly altered version in response to the comments of many that the track creates a "wall-like effect" in the middle of the street. The vertical support beams are slimmer and lighter in color, and the trees in the background look healthier. Also, the parked car in the foreground has moved. Perhaps in this alternate universe it was never there in the first place because its owner took the monorail instead.

Also, happy first birthday Las Vegas monorail!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

SMP to cut jobs, hire new director

The Times reports on two major pieces of news from SMP today, possible layoffs...
Seattle Monorail Project (SMP) leaders are considering whether to slash up to one-third of its payroll, saying some jobs aren't necessary while the monorail's future remains unknown.

Between 15 and 25 employees may be released, acting Chair Kristina Hill told agency board members last night. Currently, the monorail employs 68 people.
...and the job hunt for a new director
The board last night authorized the staff to sign a contract with a search firm to recruit nationally for a new executive director. So far the monorail project has received one offer, costing about $45,000, from a firm the agency would not name last night, said Stockmeyer. The board also held a half-hour closed "executive session" that he said included early discussion of possible recruits.

Monorail rendering superimposed on major downtown thoroughfare

From their press release
Cascadia Monorail Company today released the first rendering of its conceptual monorail design superimposed on a photograph of a major downtown thoroughfare, providing Seattle citizens a glimpse of how the long-awaited elevated, automated transit solution might look at street level.
It looks like a city from the future!

Seattle Metblog Shoutout

Joshc of Seattle Metblog fame, gives the Seattle Monorail Blog a shout-out, and links to a great collection of vintage Seattle Monorail postcards. Also on that postcard page is the text of a letter recommending the Seattle Monorail as a city landmark. It includes some intersting facts about the monorail system
With two trains operating, each on a ten-minute headway from each station, and each train capable of carrying 450 passengers, each station had a required throughput capacity of 10,000 passengers per hour. Thus the significant feature of the Seattle Center station is not seen in the architectural design, or the styling, but in the functional ability of its design to facilitate the movement of 10,000 train passengers per hour, and to do it without expensive or elaborate moving parts such as gates or other barriers, and with a minimum staffing requirement.
To put that into perspective, the London Underground moves about 125,000 passengers per hour.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


Two monorail articles dealing with transparency:

The Times unveils sketches of the proposed "iris" tracks along with complaints from business owners that they weren't released until now, and they're substantially larger than promised.

Today's Weekly has an in-depth look at Joel Horn, and how his style of management lead to the monorail's downfall. (I didn't know he brokered the leasing of PacMed to

Sorry to link and run.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Seattle </3's the Monorail

According to a recent Seattle Times poll, 52% of voters would scrub the monorail.
Many who had backed the project are beginning to turn against it. Slightly more than half of those who previously favored the 14-mile line from Ballard to West Seattle now have doubts about the project or oppose it, according to a new Seattle Times poll.

Still, 45 percent said they want to find a way to continue the monorail project. Most of those respondents, 53 percent, favor rebidding the elevated-train project to try to lower the cost.
Click through for some interesting pie charts on what the voting public thinks we should do with taxes, bidding, revoting, etc.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Monrail for the Eastside? Size does matter

The Times covers a size argument about a transit system that might actually get built
Backers of a suburban monorail system are waging a last-minute campaign to persuade Sound Transit to keep the monorail on the table as the agency evaluates future transit options for the Interstate 90 corridor between Seattle and Bellevue.

In a letter to the Sound Transit board, Citizens for King County Monorail charges that a Sound Transit study comparing light rail, monorail and bus options is biased against monorail. One of the study's key findings — that monorail trains wouldn't fit through the I-90 tunnel under Seattle's Mount Baker Ridge — is just plain wrong, the group says.
At issue is passage through the Mt. Baker tunnel
The Mount Baker tunnel is 15 feet, 3 inches high. The vertical "dynamic envelope" of monorail trains — the space they occupy while moving, with allowances for bumps and sway — is 15 feet, 10 1/2 inches for Bombardier's vehicles, slightly more than 19 feet for Hitachi's, the study said — and trains would require additional clearance of at least three feet.
Passing either company's monorails through the tunnel would require excavating it to lower the road. Try to use the phrase "dynamic envelope" in a sentence today.

update: A monorail across I-90 has been ruled out
Sound Transit has narrowed the list of mass transit options across the Interstate 90 floating bridge to two: light rail or bus service.
Don't busses already go across I-90?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Will our monorail be safe?

Today's tragic bombing in London brings up a question that I don't think has been satisfactorily answered by SMP: how safe will our monorail be against acts of terrorism?

I did some research in SMP's document archive, and found this statement buried on page 23 of a Transportation Risk & Uncertainty Evaluation document from 2002
Acts of terrorism were discussed but deemed to be insignificant due to a very low probability that the monorail would be a target.
Keep in mind this was also before the Madrid bombing.

I'm not alone in hoping for a reevaluation of the cost/benefit ratio of some added security. Right-wing blogger and Times guest columnist Matt Rosenberg had this to say in a 2004 column
Compared to other rail-transit operations here, the Green Line will be a distinctly Seattle enterprise, and highly symbolic. Unlike Sound Transit's already-operating commuter-rail system, the Green Line will be contained within city limits, and run through Seattle's heart, on an elevated guideway.
Rosenburg included a vague statement from then-SMP Director Joel Horn, which now seems even less relevant after the departure of the latter.
Horn says all procedures aren't finalized yet, but there will be a very strong focus by the monorail authority on security, including an emphasis on design factors, close coordination with law enforcement and other industry "best practices."
With the future of the entire monorail system up in the air, it may be a strange time to argue about details, but the devil's in the details, and security is one detail with quite a few devilish characters lurking inside.

update: a levelheaded counter-point by atrios
If people want to blow up buses and trains, they're probably going to be able to blow up buses and trains. No security precautions compatible with a busy transit system are likely to stop them all the time. If people are willing to kill themselves while blowing up buses and trains, then they're probably going to succeed no matter what security systems are in place.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Full text of SMP resignation letter

Can be found here

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Top Leaders of SMP Step Down

I wish we had more politicians like these two

Seattle Monorail Project board Chairman Tom Weeks and Executive Director Joel Horn resigned yesterday after a public uproar over the 50-year finance plan they had championed.

The plan was scrapped last week after even longtime supporters expressed doubts...

We take full responsibility for the current situation and feel that it is in the best interest of the Project to step down," the two wrote in a letter sent to the monorail board yesterday.
Regardless of the reasons, Tom and Joel's plan for the monorail just didn't work. They put their egos aside and did what was best for the future of the monorail. I met Joel a few months ago at the SMP public art meeting, and his passion for the monorail (and its art) was incredible and contagious. This must have been a difficult choice for him and Tom, and they are to be commended.

A series of public hearings will be held this week, including one tonight in Ballard. More info can be found on SMP's website.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Pakistan Monorail

Seattle isn't the only town with monorail issues.
The contract to award a consultancy to conduct a study for a monorail system in Lahore has been delayed because the companies could not reach Pakistan in time due to visa problems...

The consultants will study whether Lahore should have an overhead, underground or surface monorail system. The study will be completed four months after the award of the contract.
Let's see which city gets a monorail first.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Monorail financing plan killed

The Seattle Monorail Project board killed the system's controversial financing plan last night.

The West Seattle-to-Crown Hill line remains in limbo as the board sent the project to a yet-to-be-appointed special committee to try to save the elevated transit system that voters approved in 2002. But it was clear last night that it won't be easy...

The financing plan had been roundly criticized because it called for the continuation of taxes until 2050 or beyond, included some junk bonds with high interest rates and required $9 billion to be paid in interest.
I agree with The Stranger on this one
Seattle Needs Elevated Rapid Transit. But we don’t need to pay $11 billion for it. Scrap the finance plan, fire the agency heads, and face the voters one last time.
Five votes seems crazy, but any new plan should be put to the voters. We'll pass it because it's been proven time and again that the people of Seattle want a monorail.