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April 08, 2006

Lessons from the Monorail Debacle: The Grassroots Loses

Governing Magazine's Alex Marshall has a great column on the death of Seattle's monorail.  His contention is that it failed because it was a grassroots project and never had the backing of Nickels and other politicians.  Here are the key paragraphs:

The plan got underway about 10 years ago when a hippie taxicab driver dreamed up a simple X-shaped set of monorail lines that would provide access to downtown and hit many of the city’s population centers. He and a newly formed group of residents went straight to the voters and won approval of the plan in a 1997 referendum. Then in three more referendums, voters gave a nod to a specific design and a financing plan for the $2 billion project. They even approved a new tax on their cars to pay for it.

All the referendums were necessary because the politicians and business interests kept sending the project back to the voters in hopes that they would kill it. The record suggests they regarded this as an upstart project — an alien entity — that came up outside the usual channels.

Take a read.  There are lessons in here for future grassroots organizing and also for thinking about who we want in office.

Hat tip to David Sucher at CityComforts.

Posted by Lynn Allen on April 8, 2006 at 08:05 AM in Inside Baseball | Permalink


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The monorail was a stupid idea from the start, and those who voted for it were stupid to do so. Nickels and the other pols didn't get behind it because they knew how stupid it was, and for once the pols were right.

Posted by: Jay | Apr 8, 2006 1:06:57 PM

Let's take a trip in the wayback machine to when the monorail initiative was passed. The first SoundTransit measure failed, traffic was getting bad, and local, county and state government was in a state of paralysis, doing nothing visible to the public to alleviate the issue.

When Dick Faulkenbury put the initiative on the ballot, sure it was not the best conceieved piece of legislation in the world. But I remember being the only person saying it'd pass DESPITE the laughs and hackles from the so-called "experts."

Why? Because people walked into a voting booth, saw something that said "a fix to that shitty traffic you just got out of" and pulled the lever. The politicos and especially the liberal elite of the time just didn't get it. People don't want to talk about traffic, they want to see something done, and when you have NOTHING tangible being done to solve the problem (Sound Transit, anyone?) people will vote for ANYTHING. Even something as weird as a monorail. (Hey it's not like SoundTransit will ever get done or actually go to anywhere useful in Seattle or the region...if they get it done...)

What's really stupid is how this thing got voted on four times until a handful of developers who missed out on the propery boost that some were seeing as a result of station placement finally got people to vote 4 times on the project until it's done. Funny, no one talks about voting on the stadium boondoggles 4 times, or any one of another "stupid" projects.

But I guess people who expect something to be done about traffic and get nothing are "stupid" for filling in the gap, however poorly, when their failed local leadership fails yet again and keeps on spending billions for a vaporware transit policy.

Posted by: Greg Dewar | Apr 12, 2006 5:35:06 AM

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