EDITORIAL | Monorail plans for KeyArena traffic deserve scrutiny

We have a soft spot for monorails in Seattle, we really do.

Time and again, voters gave the okay to various monorail-related measures four times between 1997 and 2002, the latest giving the green light to collect a 1.4 percent motor-vehicle excise tax (car tabs) to fund the construction of the Green Line, which would have connected Ballard and West Seattle through downtown. But, as revenue came in under expectations, and costs rose, voters defeated a fifth measure on whether to move forward with the project.

Alas, we still have the Seattle Center Monorail.

The grade-separated route between Seattle Center and Westlake takes riders between the two locations in just two minutes. It leaves every 10 minutes, and can carry approximately 450 people. During two-train service for major events, it can take about 3,000 people each direction over the course of an hour.

Last month, we heard from the development groups interested in redeveloping KeyArena as an NBA/NHL-caliber facility that the monorail could potentially play a big role in mitigating the traffic concerns of the site.

These ideas need to be met with a healthy dose of skepticism.

While the monorail does make some sense for getting people to Seattle Center from downtown — the flow of people coming in for a game begins hours beforehand — and the capacity is there, the first hitch in the plan comes with the aftermath of events.

With the continuing development of Uptown after the Sonics left in 2008, there are far fewer places for fans to congregate after games wrap up. The vast majority of the 17,000 attendees will be looking to leave the area quickly.

Fixing the traffic light timing on Mercer Street, and allowing cars to cross Aurora Avenue North at Harrison, John, and Thomas streets once the waterfront tunnel opens could ease some congestion. Options like the RapidRide D Line did not exist when the Sonics were in town, and could also take some former drivers off the road on game nights.

This brings us back to the monorail, and the idea that sports fans and concertgoers heading south could quickly get downtown, and transfer to light rail (which, hopefully someday reaches Seattle Center). The question is how long people may be willing to wait to catch a ride. Even at full capacity for an hour afterwards, it can only transport about 15 percent of attendees of a sold-out event.

Suggesting that the monorail could play a role in easing traffic in Uptown on game nights is an interesting concept. But as of now, based on what we know, to suggest it as anything more than a small part of what needs to be a large plan to tackle traffic is wishful thinking.