Mike passed away on Sunday. In today's PI Joel Connelly writes, "Mike Layton could 'spot BS at a hundred paces'". Its at http://www.seattlepi.com/connelly/437537_JOEL23.html
In 1994 Mike wrote for the Sunday Times, "Seattle, Wake Up To The Monorail -- Quiet, Clean, Inexpensive, It Should Be More Than Just A Tourist Toy". It was a full page article, with a great photo of the Seattle Monorail, a keeper. At FOM we made a big poster of it. When we showed up with outside Sound Transit's various public EIS hearings and open houses where they were soliciting public comment, it drove them nuts.
So in honor to Mike Layton, here it is again, minus the great graphics.
"Seattle, Wake Up To The Monorail -- Quiet, Clean, Inexpensive, It Should Be More Than Just A Tourist Toy".
By Mike Layton, Sunday, Seattle Times, June 26, 1994
A cautious Regional Transit Authority is foggily debating whether to spend multibillions of dollars all at once or in dribbles on light or heavy rail or on more lumbering buses and new highways and tunnels to accommodate them.
Meanwhile, Seattle's monorail goes its workhorse way, ignored by city officials. The niche the monorail could fill in a balanced transportation system is not even recognized.
Since 1962 the monorail's performance has been almost accident-free, a record no other mode of transportation in the Puget Sound region can match. In fact, monorails are the safest mode of travel in the world, bar none.
Monorails are taking their place in urban transit systems in many countries. Japan has at least a dozen, and Australia is building several. Germany has a number of them, including one that is 102 years old.
At a recent conference in Seattle on public-private ventures in building public facilities, I asked six transportation luminaries why Seattle's monorail doesn't have a starring role in plans for moving people in the Puget Sound region. The answer from everyone was the same:
"Nobody ever brought it up."
Neil Goldschmidt, former U.S. secretary of transportation, professed admiration for Seattle's monorail.
"I always ride it when I come up here," said the former mayor of Portland and governor of Oregon, now a consultant.
Even Rep. Ruth Fisher, D-Tacoma, the only state legislator who is serious about the region's growing traffic strangulation, had no answer to the question.
"Nobody has ever pushed it," she said.
Why not? Why don't downtown Seattle retailers insist on the most inviting way to entice shoppers to their stores?
Why have legislators, governors, mayors and city and county council members ignored the monorail for 32 years? Why hasn't Seattle pushed this cheapest, safest and simplest mode of transportation from downtown out Highway 99 to Sea-Tac International Airport, across Lake Washington on Interstate 90, along I-5 north to Everett and south to Tacoma and Olympia?
The answer seems simple and perverse:
It wouldn't cost enough.
The natural constituents of all other transit systems, construction companies and unions, asphalt and concrete suppliers, bus and rail manufacturers, land speculators and land developers and consultants of every breed, smell more loot in highways, tunnels, buses and light and heavy rail.
There is no impelling financial incentive in a system that would cost a fraction of any other. Monorails have no highly paid, powerful lobby.
Not enough new jobs
Jerry Schneider, an engineering professor at the University of Washington and a student of the world's monorails, has a variant to that diagnosis:
"It wouldn't create enough jobs," he says.
A cynic might wonder whether the public's oft-professed desire for efficient, least-cost government is genuine. If the solution to the Puget Sound basin's traffic woes is make-work projects at public expense, then the monorail is indeed a frugal embarrassment.
If a real monorail is in Seattle's future, the people will have to go over the heads of their elected officials.
The time may have arrived. Dick Falkenbury, a Seattle tour-bus driver who knows the city's traffic problems the hard way, will soon file an initiative with the city to create what he calls an "Airrail" authority.
If he can get 20,000 signatures before the end of the year, and Falkenbury is confident he can obtain far more than that minimum requirement, the pressure will be on the city and the Regional Transit Authority to seriously consider the monorail as more than a tourist toy.
Public sentiment in favor of extending the monorail has long been a Seattle civic secret.
An alleged inability to switch from track to track or to station sidings was long official Seattle's excuse for neglecting the monorail as a major transit component.
This was true perhaps 30 years ago, but no longer.
One monorail switch in Japan has operated every few minutes for 25 years without a failure. A new German monorail runs in two directions on a single track, with trains switched automatically onto station sidings, allowing others to pass in the opposite direction.
The other reason for not extending the monorail is its appearance. That excuse had some validity, although a city that would permit I-5 or allow construction of its intersection with I-90 can't seriously object to a monorail's structure.
Monorail materials have improved markedly since Seattle's monorail was built for the 1962 World's Fair. Monorail pillars and tracks in Japan and Germany are light and graceful and enhance neighborhoods through which they run.
All monorails are electric, and most run on rubber tires. Noise in urban areas is negligible, far less than the roar of freeways, the growl of diesel buses and the shriek of steel wheels on steel rails.
Monorails are inexpensive to build, in comparison to other modes of transportation, chiefly because street and highway rights-of-way are already in public ownership. The single greatest cost of freeways and new rail lines is land on which to put them.
Cost estimates in transportation projects are difficult to obtain and are notorious for exaggeration. A proposal for a surface light-rail system from Dallas to its airport, a distance of 21 miles, was estimated two years ago to cost $828 million. A monorail along the same route would cost an estimated $500 million.
If those figures are anywhere near valid, Seattle could have extended its monorail to Sea-Tac Airport and the University District for the price of its $480 million downtown bus tunnel, certainly the biggest financial boondoggle after WPPSS in this state's history.
Monorail trains hug their tracks and can't fall off, making them the safest transportation system in existence.
Even at the usual speed of urban monorails running between closely spaced stations, about 30 miles an hour, they're faster than the cars and buses competing for space below them.
Speed is determined by how often trains must stop. The more stations and more frequent stops, the slower the train must run. Some monorails run at 60 miles an hour, and there is no inherent reason they can't achieve the 125- to 180-mile-an-hour speeds of surface trains on long stretches.
"The issue in transportation is not speed," Falkenbury believes. "It's consistency. People want to know when they can get on and when they'll arrive at their destination." Monorails, operating above cars and buses on city streets, promise that dependability, he says.
Falkenbury's proposal leaves wide latitude to the 12-member Public Development Authority it would create.
An X-shaped monorail system
The initiative spells out in broad general terms with few specifics an X-shaped system. A western leg would run from a station within 1,000 yards of 35th Avenue Southwest and Southwest Roxbury Street north to another terminus at North 140th Street and Fremont Avenue North.
On its way it would stop at a station at the Seattle Center and cross the ship canal within 100 yards of the Aurora Bridge.
The northeast terminus of the east leg would be within 400 yards of the intersection of Northeast 145th Street and Lake City Way Northeast. That leg would run south through the University District and then leap over the ship canal, 500 yards east of the I-5 freeway bridge.
The southeast terminus would be in Rainier Valley, within 400 yards of the intersections of Rainier Avenue South with South Orcas or Henderson streets.
City water reservoirs at Fremont Avenue North and at Northeast 75th Street and 15th Avenue Northeast would be covered, and stations would be built on top of them. No private property need be condemned or paid for.
Stations would be located at intervals along both routes, in residential areas and in downtown. The two routes would connect at stations at Third and Union, and there could be other stations in the Central Business District.
Although the initiative insists on general locations, it allows the public-development authority (PDA) to locate stations within 400- to 1,000-yard radii.
80 percent within one mile
"Eighty percent of the people of Seattle live within one mile of the (initiative's) stations," Falkenbury says. Buses would bring outlying passengers to the stations.
Falkenbury admits to some arrogance in laying out the system arbitrarily, but that's a reaction to the community's affinity for constipated argument over locating public facilities.
"We've been nibbled to death by Neanderthals," he says. "Somebody's got to make some decisions."
Falkenbury is confident that fares, plus rent revenues from retail shops in the stations and car stalls at station parking lots, would pay operating costs. He anticipates that the PDA would be besieged by retailers wanting stations within their premises.
The PDA can raise capital to build the system in any way now permitted by law, including issuing bonds or joint ventures with private corporations.
Although his initiative doesn't mention it, Falkenbury thinks the PDA should buy a fully automated system; trains would be monitored by computer from a control center but would not require on-board operators, a considerable savings, he says.
Falkenbury has an answer to the cries to be expected from unions. "There will be more total jobs (at the stations) than will be lost.
"Getting more people out of their cars will create more jobs, for taxis and such things as bicycle repair and retail sales at the shops at stations," he says.
He doesn't expect the Airrail to lure everyone out of their cars.
Wheelchairs and bicycles
But for those who would rather take a monorail above congested streets than be bound to the illusory "freedom" of their cars, he would reserve a quarter of the last car of each train for wheelchairs and bicycles. Car decks and station floors would be flush for wheelchair entry.
One of the many attributes of monorails is simplicity of construction. Foundations for track pillars can be poured quickly, even overnight.
All the rest of the system, the pillars and tracks, or guideways, can be fabricated off site and from off-the-shelf materials. They are then hauled to the location and bolted to foundations by small crews within hours.
Neighborhood disruption is measured in hours or days at the most rather than the months and years freeways and rail lines require.
Would the trains run on top of the track or would they be suspended from it? That would be up to the PDA and its engineers and the public.
Either method gets passengers up and out of traffic.
Suspension affords a more scenic, airy ride. The monorail potential is probably best demonstrated at Wuppertal, a Seattle-sized city in Germany's Rhineland. Its suspended monorail straddles the Wupper River for six of its eight and one-half miles, and passengers are often entertained by ducks dabbling in the water 30 feet below them or boys fishing.
That monorail, incidentally, has been running seven days a week, 24 hours a day, since 1901 with never an accident. It carries 60,000 commuting workers and shoppers each day.
By contrast, Portland's highly acclaimed light-rail MAX carries 25,000 passengers a day on its 13-mile route. In its downtown segment, MAX runs on city streets, competing with buses and passenger cars and halting at traffic lights.
Seattle's monorail, since it really goes nowhere, carries even less, although it averages a surprising 6,000 passengers a day, most of them visitors, depending on the season.
Wuppertal's 28 all-aluminum cars, about the size of Metro's articulated buses but much lighter and roomier, each can carry up to 200 passengers, sitting and standing, skimming above street traffic and bridges.
Although the cars now in use are fourth-generation, the system's structure is the same one inaugurated by Kaiser Wilhelm II more than 100 years ago.
Girders holding up the tracks resemble a giant erector set, prompting a French poet to dub it the "flying angel." Like Seattle's Space Needle, it is Wuppertal's symbolic signature.
Where a more recent extension of the monorail crosses the 12-lane Sonnborn freeway interchange, one of the largest in Europe, newer girders are graceful stressed concrete.
Complementing the monorail as the central element of Wuppertal's transit system are 40 suburban bus lines and five trolley lines whose terminals are at each end of the monorail. Tickets, purchased by trip, by day, week or month, are good on all the system's modes. Ticket-checking is on an honor system with heavy fines for cheaters.
The middle station of the 19 stops along the monorail's route, in the city's center, is at the street entrance to the German National Railway terminal with frequent passenger connections to Duesseldorf, Cologne and the rest of Europe.
A pedestrian tunnel lined with shops brings arriving train passengers to the monorail stairs at the second largest (after Munich) traffic-free shopping zone in Germany, where private automobiles and all but a few buses are excluded.
Monorail systems, or some type of elevated transit, will be the next century's major urban transport mode. But they'll happen only where the public insists on low cost, convenience and safety in transportation-planning policy.
Falkenbury's initiative may be the tool to prod Seattle into at last becoming a modern transit city.
- Mike Layton is a freelance writer and public-transportation enthusiast who lives in Olympia.
Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.