Well, so much for that transit project.

I just finished listening to the Seattle City Council unanimously approve a resolution to deny the monorail permits for building and right-of-way. They also agreed to do everything possible to get the state legislature to dissolve the monorail project. Basically, the council is concurring with Mayor Nickels, who demanded that the monorail return to voters with an improved plan. The monorail board refused and the city pulled the plug. Absent city permitting approval, the monorail’s already troubled bonds will become anathema to investors, thereby essentially killing the project.

So barring something completely unforeseen, the monorail is effectively dead. But while the corpse is still warm, Seattle needs to conduct a thorough post-mortem.

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  • Around the office here, I am was known as something of a rabid monorail proponent. Obviously, I was aghast at the ridiculously flawed financing scheme this summer that put the monorail on a collision course with the mayor and council. Still, I remained hopeful that the monorail board would revise their plan and come up with something credible, even if it was for a less extensive line.

    One thing I’d like to see investigated—apart from the chicanery or incompetence of the monorail board—was the unreasonable hostility to the monorail that emanated from city hall and other city leaders. Despite consistently strong support from voters, the monorail made little headway with many decisionmakers, some of whom seemed predisposed to hate the thing at every step along the way. I wonder if that hostility didn’t help create a culture of defensiveness and secrecy in the monorail project that ultimately led to its undoing.

    City officials probably did the right thing today in the face of a recalcitrant monorail board. But I’d argue that the blame for the project’s failure lies partly with city hall, as well as other institutions like the Downtown Business Association. I’d like to see some soul-searching from our leaders about the fractious and close-minded civic culture that stifled the monorail.

    We should, of course, continue to debate the merits of transit alternatives. What is cost effective? What is efficient? What is politically possible? And what do ordinary residents—as opposed to engineers and billionaires—actually want to see in our fair city?

    More importantly, we need to acknowledge a basic truth: there will never be a perfect transit system (or road project, for that matter). If we agree that we need better transit in the Emerald City, we should stop hunting for perfection and start looking for something practical. And we should do it with a quickness.