Those who haven’t visited Seattle might not be familiar with their monorail. Built in 1962 when the city hosted the world’s fair the monorail has enjoyed the favor of a public that appreciates the view from the elevated track as well as a light rider fare ($4 round trip) and profitability (annual profits of $750,000 are split between the operator and the city.) In 1997 the city approved an initiative to expand the monorail, a second initiative provided funding towards the venture in 2000, and in 2002 the voting public approved funds to build a 16 mile-long monorail line running north-south through the city. Three years and $100 million later the funding for monorail development was eliminated via the ballot box by a 2-1 margin as the Seattle public balked at a proposed 50-year plan to fully develop the line. Recently the New York Times reported that a host of problems over the last year have threatened the future of the existing monorail.
I’m fairly sure there will an outcry to protect the monorail given the previous support for its expansion. In terms of community development the monorail is a signature feature of Seattle that isn’t replaceable. By our count there are only a few cities in the United States that operate a monorail for public transportation (as opposed, let’s say, to the monorail at Disney World) including Las Vegas, NV, Jacksonville, FL and Memphis, TN. The monorail is a quiet form of transportation (it has rubber wheels rather than the metal ones found on traditional elevated rail systems), is environmentally sound (operating on electricity) and it has the eye-opening quality of operating at a profit in the public interest.
One of the most pleasant virtues of the Seattle monorail from the perspective of community development is the way it inspired some of Seattle’s citizens to fight for its expansion. The internet is littered with any number of websites dedicated to the pleasure of riding Seattle’s monorail or the desperate attempts by some to expand it. A group called 2045 Seattle put together a number of innovative initiatives to call attention to the project and added some description of them in the summary of their efforts:
“We staged a race between a dog, a runner, a car and the monorail. We joined with other groups to march the length of the green line. We marched around in wetsuits to remind people that West Seattle shouldn’t have to swim to get downtown.”
It’s hard to image San Francisco without the trolley, Venice without the gondola, and it should be tough to imagine Seattle without the monorail.