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Aside from his marvelous stories, what I'll always remember about Ray Bradbury was his lifelong passion and support for a public monorail system in Los Angeles, which began way back in 1963, spurred by Walt Disney's introduction of the monorail at Disneyland in 1959.
The science fiction author Ray Bradbury is dead at 91. He was famous for books like "The Martian Chronicles" and "Fahrenheit 451." But he was also a Los Angeles resident who was dismayed at our life of increasingly neverending gridlock.
Bradbury had a plan to do something about it. And it didn't involve subways or light rail. It involved monorails.
Bradbury was quite enthusiastic about this. Here's what he reported in an L.A. Times op-ed from 2005:
More than 40 years ago, in 1963, I attended a meeting of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors at which the Alweg Monorail company outlined a plan to construct one or more monorails crossing L.A. north, south, east and west. The company said that if it were allowed to build the system, it would give the monorails to us for free —absolutely gratis. The company would operate the system and collect the fare revenues.
Bradbury basically then went to work for Alweg, stumping for the monorail. The plan was compelling, as the Monorail Society (yes, there is one) noted in a brief article referencing the original Alweg proposal:
"We are pleased to submit this day a proposal to finance and construct an Alweg Monorail rapid transit system 43 miles in length, serving the San Fernando Valley, the Wilshire corridor, the San Bernardino corridor and downtown Los Angeles." So wrote Sixten Holmquist, then President of the Alweg Rapid Transit Systems in his June 4, 1963 letter to the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). He went on to detail the financing aspect, "this is a turn-key proposal in which a group will share risk, finance the construction, and turn over to MTA a completed and operating system to be repaid from MTA revenues." The entire system came to $105,275,000, "plus any applicable sales tax." Alweg also agreed to conduct feasibility studies for expansion of the system over the entire Los Angeles Metropolitan area if the offer was accepted.
$105 million! Probably seemed like a lot in '63. Seems like a bargain now — or a gift from the heavens, if you're trapped in typical L.A. freeway traffic.
Monorails systems built by Alweg are still in use. One is in Seattle, while the other is beloved by Southern California residents and visitors: it ferries people in and out of Disneyland. At Disneyworld in Florida, a variation of the Alweg monorail, built by Bombardier, is in operation.
"But what about the earthquakes?" you might ask of such a plan for California. Well, evidently the Disney monorail has been brushing off quakes since the late 1950s.
Bradbury never eased up in his monorail boosterism. He criticized L.A.'s commitment to a subway system that he saw as far too expensive and unnecessary for a warm and sunny region. And actually, he probably had some supporters around the world, who were riding on monorials based on Alweg's designs and technology.
Alweg's $105-million offer from 1963 would be worth about $740 million today, based on rough calculations (I suspect we'd be looking at an actual figure north of a $1 billion). For comparison, the Westside Metro extension is projected to cost $4 billion and not be completed until 2036. And absolutely no one is offering to build it for free and give it to the city.
We're going to miss Ray Bradbury, not least for reminding us about the free monorail project that never was.
Bradbury's support of the LA Monorail concept was mentioned in this MiceChat blog post as well -
Along with Walt, author Ray Bradbury was also a big fan of the monorail technology. Bradbury tried to encourage the City of Los Angeles to build a system. He formed a citizen’s group called Save Rapid Transit and Improve Metropolitan Environments. He had admired the multi-modal and successful transit system in San Francisco and thought a layered system like that would work in Los Angeles. He said, “Look, the psychology of the monorail is what makes it superior. First of all, it’s not elevated like the old trains in Chicago. It’s up in the air, but it doesn’t make noise…you hardly hear it.” Bradbury added, “The important thing is that it’s above the traffic, and would glide past the traffic.”
The Alweg Monorail Company agreed with Bradbury on the merits of the technology and proposed a demonstration system for the City of Los Angeles. After the success of the system at Disneyland and the experienced gained at the 1962 Seattle Century 21 Exposition, Alweg was looking for a way to expand the business. So, on June 4, 1963, President of the Alweg Rapid Transit Systems, Sixten Holmquist, approached the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and made them an offer.
The press release said, “We are pleased to submit this day a proposal to finance and construct an Alweg Monorail rapid transit system 43 miles in length, serving the San Fernando Valley, the Wilshire corridor, the San Bernardino corridor and downtown Los Angeles.” The offer was for “a turn-key proposal in which a group will share risk, finance the construction, and turn over to MTA a completed and operating system to be repaid from MTA revenues.” The budget for the initial monorail network, including rolling stock, was estimated to be $187.5 million. Alweg would also conduct feasibility studies for expansion of the system to cover the entire Los Angeles region. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1965, Walt said, “A monorail would be a natural attraction to thousands of people who would just ride it because it is something new and different. And it is needed. It’s not something that would be scrapped after two years.” Another competitor proposed a 75 mile suspended car system at a cost of $182.3 million.
Both companies promised to build the systems for “free” in exchange for the next 40 years of passenger revenues to bond against. The offer meant that the Los Angeles region would have had the backbone of a revolutionary mass transit system for no cost to the taxpayers. Political pressure from the Standard Oil Company dampened the Board of Supervisors and the LAMTA enthusiasm for the project.
Bradbury said in 2001, “Telephone Alweg to accept their offer, made 30 years ago, to erect 12 crosstown monorails – free, gratis – if we let them run the traffic. I was there the afternoon our supervisors rejected that splendid offer, and I was thrown out of the meeting for making impolite noises. Remember, subways are for cold climes, snow and sleet in dead-winter London, Moscow or Toronto. Monorails are for high, free, open-air spirits, for our always-fair weather. Subways are Forest Lawn extensions. Let’s bury our dead MTA and get on with life.” To date, Los Angeles has spent billions of dollars to build 79 miles of fixed rail.