It is a victory for some Chinatown International District (CID) community advocates, and a disappointment for others. On March 23, the Sound Transit board voted 15-1 to endorse building two light rail stations to the north and south of the CID instead of building under Fourth Avenue next to the existing station.
The decision, proposed by Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and King County Executive Dow Constantine, is not final but signals the “preferred alignment” for the Sound Transit Board, which is composed of 18 regional elected officials. The new CID station or stations will be a key puzzle piece in the Sound Transit 3 rail extension to West Seattle and Ballard approved by voters in 2016.
Sound Transit will continue studying Fourth Avenue, and could still ultimately select it.
The agency will begin further analysis of the comparatively new North/South of the CID option to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
A crowd of people supporting both station options turned out at Sound Transit’s full board meeting carrying signs and testifying during public comment. CID residents, business owners and organizations remain divided on the question.
If chosen, the North of CID station would be located under the King County Administration Building on 4th Avenue and James Street. The South of CID station would be built south of Uwajimaya, on 6th Avenue and Seattle Boulevard.
The Sound Transit Board’s decision was a blow to the contingent that supports a station on Fourth.
“[For] seniors and the disabled, there is no way they can go up the hill,” said Tim Lee, a board member of Seniors in Action in the CID during public comment for the March 23 meeting. “I believe that if the location is chosen at 5th and James, it will be against the principle of equality of passengers.”
The decision comes after an eight month delay. In July, Sound Transit directed further study and community engagement after the CID united in opposition to a station on Fifth Avenue, which would have forced over a dozen business closures, and was almost unanimously considered an existential threat to the neighborhood.
North/South of the CID was proposed relatively late, in winter 2022, and was not studied as extensively as 4th Avenue.
Amy Chen Lozano, a community organizer with Transit Equity for All (TEA) supporting a Fourth Avenue station, likened Sound Transit’s plans for North/South so far to “slightly more sophisticated than something that someone drew on the back of a napkin.”
“There’s no actual data,” Chen Lozano said. “There’s no EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] done for this. And yet, somehow this made it way past where it normally should have.”
Jared Jonson, Co-Executive Director of the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda), said in an email to the International Examiner that SCIDpda “questions the wisdom of the Board’s decision to choose a preferred alternative without first completing an initial environmental review on all options under consideration.”
“That said, Sound Transit is doing right by studying ALL of the options supported by the CID community,” Jonson continued.
Betty Lau, an organizer with TEA, said she is glad 4th Avenue is still on the table, but worries the CID will not receive enough mitigation from the project because the stations are relatively peripheral to the neighborhood. She also raised concerns that choosing North/South of the CID would eliminate a new Midtown station, making it harder for CID residents to access medical care in First Hill where medical services are clustered.
“What it’s going to do ultimately, bypassing CID…is kill it off,” Lau said. “The same way as Fifth would have killed it off, but in a longer, lingering way.”
Lau also noted that according to Sound Transit analysis, this option would add time to commuters coming from or to the Eastside, where many people of color live. “So once again, we get screwed.”
Supporters of the North/South of CID option endorsed by the Sound Transit board, on the other hand, warn that construction of a Fourth Avenue station could take a decade, and cause businesses to close. According to Sound Transit’s own analysis, constructing the 4th Avenue station would require rebuilding the viaduct underneath and rerouting of thousands of vehicles through the neighborhood.
Mike Vu, owner of Itsumono restaurant, urged the board to choose the North/South option during public comment for the March 23 meeting, noting that many businesses in the neighborhood have lost money or had to close recently. “Asking for 9 to 11 years of additional time to build on Fourth definitely is going to close more businesses down, definitely is going to displace more elderly, who live in the neighborhood,” Vu said. “If we build this, who do we build it for?”
Many North/South supporters also worry constructing a light rail station so close to the neighborhood could lead to displacement.
Nina Wallace, a worker in the CID and member of the activist CID Coalition (Humbows Not Hotels), believes the North/South of the CID station would avoid these impacts. “I do believe this is a win for the long term health and vitality of the CID,” Wallace said in an email to the IE. “I think there’s a huge opportunity to build more equitable, affordable housing to mitigate potential displacement that would likely occur with a new transit hub, whereas there is very little land for ETOD [Equitable Transit-Oriented Development] with 4th.”
Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, a member of the Sound Transit Board, said during the meeting that his decision to propose North/South of the CID was swayed in part by community testimony, concern about the decade or more construction impacts under Fourth Avenue, and his “political and personal experience and my commitments to the Chinatown International District to make sure that we do no harm.”
Chen Lozano argues that if Sound Transit studies and refines Fourth Avenue further, the impacts will ultimately be less harmful than in the initial analysis. “Those of us who are advocating for Fourth Avenue, including the seniors, who come out to many of these meetings, we understand the impacts and how long it is going to take and we feel that it’s an investment into our community, and we’re willing to do it,” she said.
Stakeholders who supported Fourth Avenue include the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda), International Community Health Services (ICHS), Chinese Information and Service Center (CISC), Chinatown International District Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA), Friends of Little Saigon, Transit Equity for All, the Chong Wa Benevolent Association, and Seniors in Action.
Supporters of the North and South of CID option include InterIm Community Development Association, Puget Sound Sage, the CID Coalition (Humbows Not Hotels), Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS), the Massage Parlor Outreach Project, and others.
Sound Transit will now begin the work of analyzing the North and South of CID locations by “evaluating the potential impacts and benefits of this option on the natural and built environment and transportation system, and identifying potential mitigation measures,” said Sound Transit spokesperson John Gallagher in an email to the IE. “We will also further refine station design and look at how to maximize connections and access to regional and local destinations. Community engagement will continue to be integral to this work.”
CID stakeholders say their work and advocacy around the station will continue.
Shomya Tripathy, policy and civic engagement director with ACRS, said even though the organization’s preferred option of North/South of the CID was given the nod by the Sound Transit Board, the organization’s work is not over. “We will continue to advocate for improved regional connectivity, pedestrian safety, wayfinding and betterments that improve walking and rolling between all three stations, and opportunities for culturally meaningful affordable housing achieved through ETOD,” Tripathy said in an email to the IE.
Wallace of the CID Coalition agrees that more work should be done to hold elected officials accountable for their promises to provide mitigation for the CID. “Ultimately we all want the same thing — for the CID to not just survive but thrive long into the future,” Wallace added. “But we need each other to make that happen.”