2045 seattle

The word of the day is: gridlock!

You’re supposed to scream when you hear the word of the day (according to Peewee), but whether you want to scream hooray or scream in anquish will depend on what today’s word means to you. If you live in Seattle and have voted for the Monorail the last 5 times then anguish is definitely going to be your emotion of choice today and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to make vocal those feelings as this week’s Stranger Monorail wrap-up uses “gridlock” nigh on a zillion times. You’ll scream quite a bit in their discussions of what went wrong with the project, in the accounts from monorail board members of the internal battles lost (or never fought at all), and in the unfortunately true assessment of the city’s political unwillingness to accept voter-initiated change. More than anyplace else, however, you’ll scream whenever you hear the name “Mayor Gridlock”, and for more reasons that just the word of the day. The phrase that 2045 Seattle coined to describe Mayor Greg Nickels was – despite the disappointing truth behind it – not enough to tear down the political walls he’s built up with talk of Kyoto and a mass transit solution for Seattle that – as is quite obvious now – he never truly believed in.

It’s a deeply disheartening Stranger this week, inducing an emotional commute that – for this reader, at least – started in Shock And Dismay County, passed into Frustrationtown, sat in traffic for a bit outside Motivated Activism Plaza and finally just gave up and parked at Disgusted Apathy and walked the last few blocks to Jaded Bitter Misanthrope. I pay licensing on two vehicles in this state and I would *happily* have paid the 1.50/week per vehicle in extra fees for the next ten years for the promise of a better connected, more urban Seattle. It is with a heavy heart that, after reading what the Stranger has printed today, I resign any remaining hopes of elevated mass transit here and settle in for the onerous commute, dirtier air and continued suburban sprawl that are apparently our unshakable destiny.

What’s most upsetting, i think, is not that this much-beloved yet continually-beleagured project has finally lost its last bit of propelling steam, but that a troublesome question has been answered, and that answer is “no.” No, voters are not steering this ship that we’re all riding in, and initiatives from the people – no matter how well-intentioned or woefully overdue – are no match for the political agendas of our elected officials. Somewhere along the way we have dropped the reins – we, us, the citizens, you and me – and what’s worse, it’s apparently been so long since we’ve been in control that even heroic attempts to retreive them and point this buggy in a new direction result in zero progress, and a citizenry that’s even worse-off for the effort. I’m not sure what’s left for us to do, besides sit meekly and await the robot overlords. Hopefully the robot killing machines will – like the buses, trolleys and light rail – be terrestrial in nature, as that should buy us a little time while they’re stuck in the gridlock (and… cue the screams).

Seattle is slowly surrendering into complete chaos.

So as i mentioned in my wireless post from the international district bus tunnel station, i rode the bus tunnel one last time before the eternal 2-year closure for some light rail project thingy that i don’t remember voting for (that’s because it’s private – even tho it’s receiving public funding assistance – augh, let’s not start that). Anywho, i had a quiet lunch to myself of lobster bisque and Groove Armada and pondered Seattle’s mass transit future. Also, i bought that belt i needed. 😉

I found a map on the Sound Transit site that gave me a good laugh. Check it out. You’ll notice there are 5 different train-type systems overlapping each other – light rail, full-scale rail, monorail (both vintage and proposed) and trolley car – and all trying to serve a different, niche need. Throw 1,183 buses into the mix along with 5 or 6 taxicabs, close 3rd avenue and parts of 5th to non-bus traffic, and it’s going to be a very confusing and inefficient two years. Of course the complexity will come down quite a bit if the SMP Green Line is never built, which is apparently how the mayor and city council would like to see things go. I live-blogged the council meeting a bit over on 2045 Seattle for all those who were likely still trying to install RealPlayer (it had never seemed useful before…). I think there were some council members who were genuinely saddened by the vote and the discussion around it, as they had at some point believed in the monorail project. Apparently the arguments presented outweighed their faith in the dream, however, as the council voted unanimously on a resolution that would withdraw city support for the SMP. As the council president said, the only power they really have over the project is their ability to grant permits for use of city right-of-way, and for zoning and construction, and that is the tool they will wield to hold back an elevated future. They are also asking the state legislature to wither the SMP’s funding source via a revocation of the previously voter-approved vehicle licensing addendum.

I’m one of many very disappointed to see the monorail get shot down like this after so much hard work and struggle, and i don’t think the voters of Seattle – who have passed via majority four different referendums supporting the monorail – will be pleased at the polls. I don’t purport to know the details of the SMP’s funding debacle, nor will i try to assess their trustworthiness or fitness for the task at hand, but i do feel confident assuming that even despite their shortcomings they must have learned a great deal about monorails, mass transit, and Seattle’s chances of escaping gridlock hell and i hope that precious research doesn’t die with the SMP’s bankroll. If anything is ever going to come of this city’s 7 zillion different transportation initiatives and if those plethora of tiny solutions to localized problems is ever going to organize and regroup as a consistent regional strategy, we at least need to be able to learn from our mistakes as a collective community and not keep starting from zero.

I’d like to see everything the Seattle Monorail Project has gathered, from environmental studies to financial statements to blueprints to swatches of seat fabrics, be made public and readily available so that all of us may be more well-informed the next time our one-track (pipe) dream shows up on the ballot. Because there will be a next time.