Monorail Position - For: Staying behind the curve is recipe for gridlock

Seattleites could stop uttering those nasty four-letter words in traffic if the solution wasn't as taboo.

No one has a positive opinion of the monorail anymore.

But if Seattle doesn't commit to improving public transportation, the city is headed for a state of permanent gridlock.

It is understandable why some resist. It's not as if the city has done an exemplary job of pitching it to the public. Most citizens believe the monorail is a waste of time, energy and tax dollars. Even though Seattleites take pride in being eco-friendly, we still rely on gas to power our cars and buses.

What city officials and residents need to do is figure out how to make mass transit fit our needs.

I don't care if we use the plan we have or revamp it, but with so many brains pondering the topic in committees and boards, I know we should come up with a solution - and fast.

Take Portland as an example of how the residents customized light rail to serve a specific purpose.

Portland's light-rail system, MAX, opened in 1986. It now stretches from the Eastside to the Westside, from downtown to the airport and north to the convention center. Plans are in the works to extend service to Vancouver, Wash., and south of downtown.

Seattle is clearly behind the curve.

Portland built MAX with federal money intended for freeways. The project finished on time and on budget.

Almost 20 years later, about 90 percent of Portlanders overwhelmingly approve of MAX. Between June 2003 and June 2004, there were 91 million rides on MAX, record ridership for the system.

A one-zone adult fare is $1.40 - comparable to taking a bus in Seattle.

The problem is that as Seattleites take time to squabble over whether a monorail or light rail is a good option, the freeways become more crowded, the traffic thickens and a simple commute to work becomes a nightmare.

Throw in less federal money available for transportation upgrades, and we may be looking at another decade before our citizens can ride the rails - and that's assuming the monorail isn't voted down.

Metro bus service is excellent in Seattle; it's the way I get around. But with a new monorail serving areas previously covered by Metro, routes could be adjusted to provide a more extensive bus network.

Monorail or light rail is designed to integrate with other forms of transportation. With the proposed Green Line, which would run from West Seattle to Ballard, all 19 stops would have connections to Metro, and many would connect to streetcar lines, ferry terminals and the future light rail.

Creating a more complete public transportation system makes giving up gas-guzzlers more appealing.

And although spending more money and increasing taxes to build a monorail or light rail seems counterintuitive, the long-term impacts of either would outweigh the costs.

Seattleites object to several things apart from the cost. Nature lovers would hate to have down-town Elliott Bay views obstructed by concrete and steel. Instead of supporting the project no matter where the lines go, neighborhoods are battling it out to make sure there's a stop nearby.

And there are other pressing transportation concerns: How should we fix a crumbling viaduct? Should the new 520 bridge have four lanes or six?

Unfortunately, the monorail and light rail have become casualties of an "I don't care anymore" mentality.

I care. I know how expensive it is to keep a car in the city, and I choose not to. How much easier would navigating the city be if my options were increased?

According to Tri-Met's website, "Most riders - 77 percent - are 'choice' riders: They have a car available or choose not to own one so they can ride TriMet."

If so many Portlanders choose MAX, why can't Seattleites decide once and for all to support the monorail?

Have you ever sat in rush traffic in Portland? It's a mere nuisance rather than a full-blown nightmare.

If we keep sitting back and waiting for someone else to fix the traffic jams, we'll be in gridlock until 2050.

Sarah A. Carr is a journalism student at the University of Washington.[[In-content Ad]]