Mayor Wants Westside Light Rail

But What About Monorail Instead?

by Bob Fleming

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One of the compaign pledges of Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn was to try to get a light rail line built from West Seattle through downtown Seattle and on to Ballard in the northwest part of the city.

Recently he pushed again for a transit crossing of the ship canal between Ballard and Fremont, and I think there is also discussion of an improved vehiclular crossing.

I am wondering why he is seeking light rail instead of monorail. Light rail would be a great help for public transit, but monorail would be even better, avoiding some of the problems inherent with light rail. Monorail would probably cost less, it is elevated so does not conflict with cars and pedestrians, is potentially faster, has a shorter construction time, does not divide a neighborhood, is quieter, and is safer.

Additionally, there is already a monorail line partially designed for that corridor, the “Green Line,” which would have been the first of six lines proposed for a city-wide monorail system.

What I would like to see is a combined vehicular and monorail bridge across Salmon Bay alongside the Ballard Bridge. This location was the proposed location of a bridge for the Green Line monorail, which I hope can still be built. Furthermore, the Ballard Bridge vehicular crossing is often congested and traffic is subject to delays when the bridge is raised to let boats pass through. We need a four-lane high-level vehiclular bridge and the Green Line monorail can be built beweeen the northbound and southbound lanes of the bridge. The bridge would be high to permit ships to pass under it. The high-level bridge would need to reach ground level some distance from either side of Salmon Bay, so the existing Ballard Bridge would be retained for local traffic.

The Green Line would have connected Downtown Seattle with the Ballard and Crown Hill districts of northwest Seattle and the West Seattle district of southwest Seattle. The route was to pass near or through several important destinations, including Safeco Field (home of the Seattle Mariners baseball team), Qwest Field (home of the Seattle Seahawks football team and Seattle Sounders soccer team), King Street railroad station, the Seattle Center (amusement, entertainment, cultural, and educational center), and Key Arena (home of the Seattle Storm basketball team). Click here for map of Green Line

It seems to me that, rather than design and build a new light rail line, it would be cheaper, faster, and better to build a modified version of the Green Line. Much of the design is already done. We may have to buy the plans from the consortium that did the design, and to buy back property that the Seattle Monorail Project sold off after the project was cancelled, but with light rail we would be starting from scratch.

By a “modified version of the Green Line” I mean that there is good reason to make some changes, such as avoiding the loop through Seattle Center and “double-tracking” over the entire route. For a more detailed explanation of my suggested changes, please click here.

Interior of Hitachi monorail train

The interior of a Hitachi monorail train
Note: A different seating layout was planned
for the Green Line trains.

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