Sound Transit cannot let our treasured Chinatown International District (CID) become collateral damage for yet another regional infrastructure project, when there is a better alternative. But that’s just what will happen if 4th Ave and Jackson is torn up for a decade – or more – to build a new CID station on the Ballard to West Seattle light rail extension.
Supporters for a 4th Ave station would have you believe they represent a widely held view by the neighborhood. And that there aren’t workable alternatives. It could not be further from the truth.
As part of a coalition of small businesses, low-income residents, elders, long-time community leaders, and non-profits serving the CID, we call instead for new station locations just north and south of the CID that serve equally well, if not better.
When Sound Transit unveiled a 4th Ave station location last winter, most of the CID community was shocked to hear it would require up to 10 years of construction – in the heart of our already stressed neighborhood. This was new and devastating information that moved over 100 CID stakeholders and organizations to sign a letter to Sound Transit demanding an alternative.
To be clear, it’s not that 10 years of construction is simply a hassle – it will likely result in permanent displacement of businesses, residents, and community spaces. We don’t want to be like the many Chinatowns across the U.S. that have disappeared over the last 50 years because of racism, redevelopment, and infrastructure projects. Examples include San Jose, Detroit, and Portland. Many more are fighting for survival – including Seattle.
The good news is that Sound Transit has proposed two station alternate locations that minimize disruption in the heart of the CID, offer similar regional connectivity, and could spur hundreds of community-owned affordable housing units.
The proposed locations include one at Yesler and 4th that would connect by tunnel to the Pioneer Square station, and one at Dearborn and 6th Street. Both could be built for cheaper and pose less construction delay risks than the 4th Ave option.
The CID north station would provide the regional hub that many transit advocates say is critical for people to transfer to and from the three lines that will eventually run through downtown Seattle. Unlike 4th Ave, the CID north option has land nearby that Sound Transit can acquire for construction staging, and sell back to the community for affordable housing. And, Sound Transit in partnership with Seattle can invest in streetscaping that will make the short walk between Yesler and Jackson safer for pedestrians.
The CID south station has similar benefits. It would be just one block south of Uwajimaya, and could catalyze both new, welcoming streetscaping and affordable housing on nearby land. Visitors to the CID could get off here and walk only three blocks to experiences all the CID has to offer. It would also offer another station for stadium-goers that would relieve the pressure of game day crowding.
Moreover, the north and south CID station locations appear to come with less delay risk. The proposed 4th Ave Station would be laid into liquefaction prone soil and under the 4th Ave Viaduct, with the potential for surprises that add to construction length – the Highway 99 deep bore tunnel is an example. 10 years of construction could turn into 15.
All things being equal, if there were no construction impacts, the full CID community would likely want a station that directly connects to our current transit hub at Union station. But that option is not on the table, and the risk of a decade of disruption is too high to the well-being of our unique neighborhood.