Nickels Vs. Monorail

Monorail fans suspect that Mayor Greg Nickels is not in their corner. The mayor's ambivalence became apparent during Nickels' recent closed-door meetings with monorail folks. Sources familiar with those meetings say Nickels took two direct shots at the monorail.

First, according to monorail board member Cindi Laws, at an April 17 meeting Nickels suggested that the monorail folks drop their proposed Ballard to Downtown to West Seattle line in favor of a shorter "starter" line: one from Seattle Center to Safeco Field. The monorail folks told Nickels that wouldn't do. "A shorter monorail line is like a short dick," Laws says. "It may suit the owner, but not the client."

Second, at a follow-up Saturday meeting, Nickels tried to take control of an upcoming monorail poll. Sources say Nickels' staff planned to phrase key polling questions in such a way that the results would lean against the proposed 14-mile monorail plan. In short, the poll would have shown that a smaller (less expensive) line was A-okay with voters. The monorail contingent wrestled control of the poll away from Nickels, despite Nickels' offer to pay 60 percent of the polling costs.

Why would Nickels want a shorter monorail? Well, Nickels spokesperson Marianne Bichsel says Nickels was simply considering "all the options." Nickels' office was flabbergasted and frustrated that the monorail folks would question Nickels' motives. They say they have been working collaboratively with the monorail folks on the poll to get the most accurate read on voters.

Here's another take: As a Sound Transit true believer, Nickels is terrified of the full-fledged monorail. Nickels knows the projects are in direct competition because there isn't enough taxing authority to support two systems. And so, despite his election promise to deliver monorail as well as light rail, Nickels' ultimate allegiance to Sound Transit is trumping his pro-monorail rhetoric.

The monorail is extremely popular, and Nickels is afraid a full-fledged monorail will screw Sound Transit in two ways. First, Seattleites will finally be forced to make a choice. Forced between two plans this November, liberal Seattleites will likely pick the monorail over the daunting regional plan with its car-hugging highway expansion; not to mention its new billion-dollar outlay for suspect Sound Transit. However, with a half-assed, less-expensive monorail line on the ballot, Nickels figures voters might be more inclined to spend money on Sound Transit too.

Sound Transit will also benefit from a shorter (less effective) monorail because a "starter" monorail line won't embarrass light rail. After all, with a full-fledged monorail zipping through the city--three years before Sound Transit's Downtown-to-almost-the-airport route!--Seattleites are likely to pull the plug on light rail, which by law must come to a second vote before expanding.