Transit Throwback – Spokane Monorail

A GN freight train carries the front car of a monorail through Spokane in route to Seattle. Photo Credit: Spokane Daily Chronicle (2/17/62)

A GN freight train carries the front car of a monorail through Spokane in route to Seattle.
Photo Credit: Spokane Daily Chronicle (2/17/62)

After Spokane hosted Expo ’74, the concept of futurism was a constant thought in the city. At the same time, there was a continued demand for better transit service, the city having gone through decreases in service in the decade prior with Spokane City Lines before the city took over the franchise themselves.

On the other side of the state, Seattle was running a short one-mile monorail system that ran from the Westlake area of downtown to Seattle Center (home to Key Arena and EMP) in Lower Queen Anne. Perhaps in another example of “Seattle-envy,” local politicians looked at the Seattle monorail and tried to see if the same could be done in Spokane.

“Monorail View Told” John Craig, Spokane Daily Chronicle 6/29/1977

A monorail is in Spokane’s future – at least in the “wild dream” Commissioner Jack H. Bell outlined for the Spokane Transit Commission yesterday.

The commission took no action on Bell’s idea, but approved the “concept” of spending up toe $300,000 for “novelty-type” transportation in Riverfront Park. No funds are available, however transit manager Robert W. Harder said.

The commission also ordered 30-minute intervals between buses on all routes and confirmed plans for experimental, cross-town service

Bell said a monorail would be one way of providing the “novelty-type” transportation the commission is considering to serve the Opera House-Convention Center and Riverfront Park. But he admitted a monorail may not be practical.

“It’s a very, very long-range plan of mine,” he said.

The commission is studying ways to transport persons to the park and the Opera House from the Coliseum parking lot to alleviate the parking shortage on the south side of the Spokane River. Among others things, Disneyland-type trains are being considered.

“I think the expense of a monorail would be terrific,” Bell said, “but it would be a terrific people mover.”

He said he envisions a monorail that would loop through the park with stops at the YMCA building, the Opera House, the entertainment center in the former U.S. Expo Pavilion and possibly at Wall and Spokane Falls Boulevard.

“Phase II” of the monorail could extend service to a satellite parking lot near Francis and Division and from there to Joe Albi Stadium, he said.

If “Phase II” were successful, “Phase III” might extend a line from the park to the South Hill, perhaps to a satellite lot near Fifty-seventh and Regal.

“Phase IV” might be a line to the Spokane Valley, Bell speculated.

“People could get downtown in 10 minutes on a monorail,” Bell said.

Harder said the 30-minute intervals between buses the commission ordered will make schedules easier to understand and will reduce anxieties about missing a bus. Intervals now range up to 55 minutes during non-peak hours, he said.

Also, the commission decided to have all layovers occur downtown. Harder said some patrons had been frustrated to board a bus near the end of its line and experience a layover before continuing to the downtown area.

The new schedules have buses leaving the central business district and arriving at 15 minutes before and after each hour.

The experimental, cross-town route is to be used from Oct. 1 to the end of the year, commissioners noted. The estimated $95,000 cost is to be paid largely by the U.S. Urban Mass Transit Administration.

Two buses are to cover a six-mile, “figure-8” route between Francis and Wellesley, Market and Assembly. Riders may transfer to north-south routes.

Obviously, a monorail system was never brought to Spokane. In later years, discussions of light rail, a more proven technology, started to pop up (though we also know how that ended). Many other metros likely thought about starting their own monorail systems as well, but presently only 3 cities in the US have any operating: Seattle, Las Vegas, and Jacksonville. There are also smaller operations at zoos, shopping malls, and amusement parks, most notably among them Disneyland and Disney World (the first monorail in the US).



2 Comments on “Transit Throwback – Spokane Monorail”

  1. larrycebula says:

    I just found this blog, it is really good. I had no idea that Spokane had considered a monorail!

  2. […] The Transit 509 blog has the history of the brief foray into building a monorail here. […]

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