With the Kraken sunk at the bottom of its conference, it’s worth noting that professional hockey’s return to Seattle produced an unexpected winner — the Seattle Monorail.
Built for the 1962 World’s Fair, the just-under-one-mile line has spent its history as mostly a tourist attraction. No longer. It has proven to be a viable transportation option for fans traveling from downtown to Climate Pledge Arena at Seattle Center.
Seattle Center officials should now seek funding to renovate the monorail’s northern station, just as private investment improved the Westlake Center facility at the southern terminus.
The monorail is owned by the city of Seattle and operated by Seattle Monorail Services, a private company, since 1994.
The company last year completed $7 million in renovations to the Westlake Center station. In addition, $8.5 million in power supply and other system improvements were funded by a combination of federal grants, fares and other city dollars.
The upgrade increased capacity to about 4,500 people per hour in either direction, up from about 3,000. That helped the monorail meet stronger than expected demand. The arena’s environmental impact studies projected 8% of hockey attendees would use the monorail. The reality is closer to 20%, said arena officials.
That’s had a positive impact for downtown as fans transfer from light rail at Westlake Center, or park and walk to the station.
Expect even more people to ride the monorail when light-rail service expands to Bellevue and the Eastside in 2023. Sound Transit is slated to open a light rail station on the Seattle Center campus in 2037.
As part of the $17 billion transportation package passed by the Legislature this year, there is $5 million dedicated to improving the Seattle Center monorail station. That leaves a balance of about $10 million, which could come from a Federal Transit Administration grant, congressional earmark or city funds.
Seattle Center ought to put this project high on its list of priorities. The improvements would increase monorail capacity to 6,000 passengers per hour in either direction, a worthwhile investment.
The Kraken deserve credit for boosting the monorail by offering free public transit as part of a game ticket. A spokesman for Climate Pledge Arena said the venue is reviewing ways to get fans on transit for other events as well. That would be a welcome move.
The monorail occupies a particularly odd place in Seattle’s history. In the ’90s, fervor for expanding single-track elevated trains sparked five citywide votes, the last one finally killing off the idea after boosters spent $124.7 million in taxpayer funds without anything to show for it. In a case of life imitating art, monorail fanaticism even inspired an episode of The Simpsons.
Compared to all that, making the current monorail operate more efficiently is as close to a no-brainer as you can get in Seattle politics.