Recluse reflections: Sound Transit is just so "monoraillike"
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Friday, November 18, 2005  
Sound Transit is just so "monoraillike"

Meanwhile, over at that rapid transit system that's actually being built...

PI reporter Jane Hadley uses a wonderful adjective to describe the financing that has been proposed to the Sound Transit board for the agency's tunnel and one station under Capitol Hill. She calls the financing scheme "monoraillike". The word may not roll off the tongue or the keyboard, but it should become a permanent part of the Seattle political lexicon.

It will mean different things to different folks. Some might adopt the adjective as a badge of honor. Others might consider it a warning.

But whatever it comes to mean for others, Sound Transit's board members should react in horror if they're called "monoraillike". And the North Link project is starting to look monoraillike in more than just its financing scheme.

The ST board was monoraillike when they dropped the First Hill station from the North Link route. That cost-cutting decision was eerily similar to the cost-cutting decision that SMP made when they reduced some sections of their elevated trackage to one-way guideways.

In both cases, the cost cuts severely impacted service on the respective lines. In both cases, the boards insisted that they could manage things by tweaking just a few things here and there.

That long expensive tunnel under Capitol Hill is enough like SMP's stretches of one-way tracks that it deserves the epithet "monoraillike".

When it was originally proposed, the North Link tunnel had three stations south of the U District, as I recall. ST dropped the north Broadway station early on and then dropped First Hill this summer. That leaves the one station near Broadway and John. It could serve a small segment of the dense residential population of Capitol Hill, but it does nothing for Seattle's third largest employment base on First Hill (It has somewhere around 22,000 jobs compared to just over 7,000 for Capitol Hill [see this .pdf city estimate]).

To serve those employers and employees ST is now studying some kind of circulator system -- maybe a trolley, maybe buses, maybe pedicabs. What the current ST2 project list says about it is this:
First Hill Connector
Enhance service connecting First Hill to Central Link (mode and route TBD), to mitigate potential loss of a planned light rail station.

But whatever the TBD is eventually determined to be for First Hill, it won't happen until after a second vote. And that vote might just become all-too-monoraillike if the ST Board isn't careful with what's left of their expensive tunnel under the hills.

After dropping First Hill and the second Broadway station, the ST Board has become monoraillike in its insistence that this route which is drawn on these CAD files and on this paper and on that environmental impact study is the only route that should be considered.

Like the Seattle Monorail Project that stuck tenatiously to its original 13-mile route on the CAD despite ever bleaker financial projections, the ST Board has stuck with most of that original line through the hills despite ever escalating costs.

The ST Board is monoraillike in its refusal to reconsider some of its initial assumptions. They're being monoraillike in ceaselessly quoting out a good grade assigned by federal transit bureaucrats for the North Link segment. "See... These experts like us," they say. Just like the monorail board.

The ST Board should stop to reconsider the alternative routes that they rejected for the North Link segment from downtown to the U District. They should take another look at ridership in the rapidly populating South Lake Union area that might be served by one of the Eastlake alignments that were rejected in favor of the long tunnel.

They should ask themselves if they would have chosen this tunnel if they had known that it would have just one station. They should ask themselves if the TBD-circulator for First Hill might not also serve an even larger part of the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

That's what they should do. But that kind of reconsideration would not be monoraillike. And that, unfortunately, makes it unlikely.

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