Objections raised at monorail forum; meeting may have been last one with public before issue goes to ballot

In what may have been the last public meeting before the issue heads to the ballot, a city council-sponsored forum on July 18 included a panel whose members also didn't necessarily see eye to eye over details.
Dick Burkhart, a citizen activist and member of the Metro Transit Advisory Council, went so far as to put his own fliers out on chairs at the forum. He describes ETC estimates of around 70,000 riders per day as "inflated" and questions the adequacy of the $1.7 billion that a proposed 1.4 percent motor-vehicle excise tax would generate for the monorail in 25 years.
Citing the costs of a monorail currently under construction in Las Vegas, Nev., Burke wrote that the Seattle system should really pencil in at $2.3 billion.
The favored Green Line route would cost around $1.3 billion, and the balance of roughly $400 million would be used as reserves for capital and operating costs, according to the ETC.
ETC chairman and forum panelist Tom Weeks stood by the figures, saying three independent analyses support the cost estimates. He also said a fourth study commissioned by Mayor Greg Nickels' office was due out a few days after the meeting.
According to a July 20 press release from the mayor's office, that fourth study validated the ETC's cost estimates, describing them as "highly credible." According to the press release, "there is a 90 percent chance that the final project cost will fall within a range that can be funded with the proposed tax ...."
Jack Mackie, a Seattle Design Commission board member, worried about aesthetics and said the mono-rail's impact on the city could be horrible. "It is not a simple ribbon that runs through the city."
He said the design commission supports mass transit in general.
"However, we cannot support this," Mackie said of the monorail.
According to one source, the design commissioners have not taken a formal stand on the monorail.
Henry Aronson, a former Port of Seattle Commissioner, was also concerned with aesthetics. Aronson said he thought a full-scale model of a monorail section should be built downtown to give voters an idea of the visual impact. Mackie agreed with him.
Forum panelist Mark Hinshaw, an architect on the ???Design Review board, also worried about style elements. View corridors are important to Seattleites, he said.
"We've jealously guarded those views," Hinshaw said.
Hinshaw also noted that he thought Seattle would do well to follow the example of Vancouver, B.C., where a monorail system moves underground when it reaches the downtown area.
Forum panelist and monorail initiative co-author Grant Cogswell downplayed the loss of view corridors because of the monorail.
"Yes, it's visible. There is a tradeoff," Cogswell said.
Still, Cogswell added, telephone poles and pillars supporting freeways are an accepted part of city life.
Jerry Ernst, a forum panelist from the Downtown Seattle Association, worried the monorail would have a negative effect on pedestrians at ground level.
"It's not something we've spent a lot of time examining," he said.
Ernst also said a major concern of the Seattle Center Master Plan was to create a pedestrian-friendly campus by minimizing the intrusion of vehicles. Because of that, he said, most people think a cross-campus monorail route would be a mistake.
Queen Anne businessman Chris Bihary also wondered why a cross-Seattle Center route was revived, given that protection of views was also a focus of the Seattle Center Master Plan.
"We believe that it is a good route," Weeks said. Seismic standards and aesthetics would be "improved and moved into the next century quite effectively," he said.
Queen Anne businessman Bob Burkheimer took a different approach. He thought a cross-campus route would help attract people to the Seattle Center.
Burkheimer doesn't think that route will be built, though, and he complained it would cost around $20 million to go around the Seattle Center, as proposed by the favored route for the Green Line. "I think the Seattle Center owes the Queen Anne community that $20 million back," he said.
Dick Falkenbury - the Seattle cab driver who came up with the idea of building a new monorail - sounded a little exasperated after the forum.
But he described the objections that night as "not that big a deal," and he predicted the ballot measure would pass in November.
"We're going to build a system that's going to move a lot of people," Falkenbury said.
Seattle City Council member Richard Conlin - who chaired the forum with a Friends of the Monorail coffee cup sitting in front of him - said the council will receive ETC's proposal Aug. 5.
A committee of the whole is scheduled to consider the proposal Aug. 12, added Conlin, who also said the city council may schedule yet another public forum about the monorail in August.
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