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RIP Ray Bradbury — and the FREE L.A. monorail that never was

Los Angeles had a chance, back in 1963, to get some of these. For free.
Los Angeles had a chance, back in 1963, to get some of these. For free.
Wikimedia Commons

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.

Free 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 monorial, 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. 

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