Ballard to Downtown High Capacity Transit and Ship Canal Crossing Project

Monorail Would be Better than Light Rail for this Route

by Bob Fleming

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An e-mail sent 8/8/2013 regarding the Seattle City Council Meeting Agenda for Monday, August 12, 2013, Council Briefing, under item 4, “Ballard to Downtown High Capacity Transit and Ship Canal Crossing Project,” has a link to Ship Canal Crossing Study.

I downloaded that presentation and it shows several alternatives for routes between Ballard and Downtown. It looks as if light rail is being considered for all alternatives.

I responded by sending an e-mail to the council-members urging them to consider monorail as an alternative. I told of some of the advantages of monorail over light rail in this route, and referrered them to the book, Rise Above it All by Dick Falkenbury, the Monorail Society website, and this website.

My Proposal

I propose a modified version of a portion of the original Green Line project from Downtown to Ballard. I propose a route through Downtown along Second Avenue all the way through Belltown to a station near the southwest corner of Key Arena. From there is would go west on W. Harrison Street and then north along, or near, 15th Avenue West, then across the Ship Canal on a high-level bridge, to a station at or near N.W. Market St. This could be the end of this starter line, or it could continue north on 15th Ave. N.W. to N.W. 85th St.

This route would avoid the longer route planned for the Green Line, along 5th Ave. and through the Seattle Center before reaching Key Arena. An optional separate project could be to extend the existing Seattle Center Monorail across Seattle Center (along Thomas Street) to the Key Arena Station, to permit transfers between the two lines.

I am proposing a high-level bridge across the ship canal (as planned for the Green Line) because the trains would never be delayed by bridge openings. However in order to avoid steep grades, both ends of a high-level bridge would need to be some distance back from Ship Canal. I propose that the existing Ballard Bridge be retained, partly to provide for local travel that begins or ends near the Ship Canal, such as around Fishermen’s Terminal or the Ballard waterfront, Leary Way, etc. The Ballard Bridge would also provide a crossing for pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

A big bonus would would be if the monorail crossing were to be included in a high-level vehicular bridge so that most traffic would use this bridge instead of the Ballard Bridge, thereby not being subject to bridge openings, and the Ballard Bridge could be modified to only one lane in each direction with more space for bicycles and pedestrians.

The route I just proposed provides for future expansion to the south and hopefully to West Seattle. The expansion to the south through Sodo could be my proposal for a monorail to reduce traffic and parking around the stadiums and proposed new arena, thereby improving, not worsening, the impact on port operations.

Why I Think Monorail Would Be the Best Choice

The various proposed routes will pass through areas that are quite densely populated, with many business and industrial operations. A monorail would be elevated and avoid the need for much condemnation of property. In most places the monorail can use existing left-turn lanes of major streets. Surface light rail would require a much wider path and require condemnation of much more property. Elevated light rail would be more expensive than monorail, take longer to build, and would have more of a visual impact. Light rail in a tunnel would avoid many of the problems mentioned above, but would be far more expensive.

Monorail is inherently safer than surface light rail because the monorail is elevated and does not conflict with vehicle or pedestrian traffic.

In most cases, a monorail in a street does not require widening of the street because the supporting columns are typically about five feet wide and can easily fit in a two-way left turn lane. Surface light rail usually requires that the street be widened with loss of adjacent property, as occured on Martin Luther King Way South.

A monorail can be built in far less time than any form of light rail and can be in operation much sooner.

A monorail has rubber tires running on a concrete guideway and is quieter than steel wheels on steel rails, and avoids the screeching that often occurs when a light rail train is rounding a curve.

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©2013 Robert M. Fleming Jr.

This page was last updated on 3 April 2015.

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