Seattle’s Chinatown is looking to move away from a future light rail station

On teahouse windows and wooden utility poles, the signs of discord appear throughout Seattle’s international Chinatown district.

“SAVE THE CID”, “WHAT IS AT STAKE?” and “SPEAK UP FOR THE CHINATOWN INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT”, they say, inviting people to learn about the years of noise, dust, demolitions and truck traffic to come, if Sound Transit chooses to dig the second station of district light rail at Fifth Avenue South, next to the famous Chinatown Gate.

A second station is part of King, Snohomish and Pierce counties voters’ ST3 ballot measure passed in 2016, to help anchor what is currently a $13 billion corridor connecting downtown to West Seattle and Ballard .

While it is true that almost all transportation projects mark a neighborhood, in this case the goal is not primarily to serve Chinatown residents, but to provide a new tunnel and greater capacity for the entire area of drive through downtown Seattle. The second station in the International District/Chinatown and a second station in Westlake are the hubs where passengers used to change trains, depending on their distant destinations.

Neighborhood advocates insist the station should go a block farther west, under Fourth Avenue South near South King Street, along with freeways and sports stadiums. This would reduce the impact on a region that has been sacrificed for generations to regional construction.

“It’s systemic racism. They don’t really care,” Brien Chow, outreach president of the Chong Wa Benevolent Association, said of how the projects are planned. “The bottom line is that they have the option to go down Fourth Avenue. They have to take that, because they have to think about the people in the neighborhood. They have a win-win option, so why not take that option?”

But choosing Fourth Avenue may create a traffic nightmare, as builders would tear down and replace the elevated six-lane street. In this scenario, around 15,000 daily car and bus journeys, and peak stadium traffic, need to be diverted during six years of partial road closures, compared to just 5,000 on Fifth for a 2½ year closure.

Total construction time on Fourth Avenue is estimated at nine to 11 years, a few years longer than Fifth.

It is among the most crucial decisions facing the 18-member Transit Commission, who have already gone five years without doing so since the 2016 election. The council is due to choose a preferred option in July, followed by a final decision next year.

On May 20, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell urged fellow transit board members to eliminate two 180-foot-deep station options because they are difficult for passengers to use, requiring elevators and long underground passages. That would leave two shallower options, 85 feet, and a 115-foot-deep version between Fifth and Sixth Avenues to the south near South King Street. Harrell has yet to say whether he favors fifth or fourth.

The stakes are raised by the capacity of the country and the region legacy of racism against Asian Americans, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II on the West Coast. Governments then built I-5 through the district and then the neighboring Kingdome which residents protested, then a streetcar whose construction obstructed South Jackson Street. This decade, store owners and 3,500 residents now persevere amid vandalism, homeless camps, anti-Asian muggings and sidewalk drug deals.

Denise Moriguchi, CEO of Uwajimaya family grocery store and Asian produce market, and her cousin Miye Moriguchi, the company’s property manager, say the story remains relevant in 2022.

“My dad was sent to an internment camp,” Denise said, “and his dad was born in an internment camp…we had a business before the war in Tacoma. Our parents and grandparents lost everything. They came back here afterwards, to rebuild. We really dedicated ourselves — and this is our home. And to think that again, parts of our property could be taken from us, or just the neighborhood… it feels like there’s a continuing pattern.

Sound Transit, in its Racial Equity Toolkit Report, says it is unclear which option provides the greatest local benefit. After the disruption, a site on Fifth would allow for more than 300 subsidized housing units, on properties remaining after construction, and would be a quicker walk to buses and trams, he says.

Uwajimayathe Chong Wa Benevolent Associationand Historic Downtown South endorsed Fourth Avenue in official comment letters. The Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority calls Fourth the least disruptive choice, but says Sound Transit hasn’t explained how to keep the district from being inundated with traffic.

The Wing Luke Museum called the entire Historic District “our greatest exposure” and wrote that damage anywhere would reduce the cohesion of the neighborhood.

Positive things are finally starting to happen, Chow said last week. “Basically, this has been an uprising from the whole community, regarding feedback to the Sound Transit board.

fear of devastation

Cathal Ridge, director of development for the Sound Transit Corridor, told council members in May that shallow Fifth Avenue options are the most cost-effective, between $1.2 billion and $1.3 billion.

These savings come with taxation.

Contractors would close South King Street and South Weller Street for years as trucks and materials took over, studies have found. Machines rattled next to apartments for the elderly. Old buildings such as Joe’s Tavern, Seattle Best Tea, Carpet King and Ping’s Dumpling House would be razed, displacing 19 to 27 businesses with 170 to 230 workers.

The 206-unit Publix Hotel at Fifth and King would tower over the excavation a few feet away. The Chinatown gate should be wrapped to protect it from dust.

Hing Hay Park, renovated and coming back to life, would be surrounded by noise and trucks.

“People in the neighborhood don’t like it. There is too much dust and pollution,” said Vivian Chau, whose family owns a grocery store and a New An Dong grocery store on King.

Uwajimaya’s rear entrance, parking lot and loading dock would be blocked off during construction, not to mention there would be noise reaching apartments above the store.

“It will be a big pain, but we will be able to figure out how to get through it. But we are only as strong as our community,” said Denise Moriguchi.

Before innovating in Fifth, the transportation agency would condemn a parking lot and the former Uwajimaya store facing King Street. After the station was built, Sound Transit would convert the site into a tunnel-like ventilation structure, surrounded by affordable nonprofit housing. The Moriguchi prefer to develop shops and apartments themselves.

City Council member Alex Pedersen, who chairs the transportation committee, said he thinks the environmental impact report understates the potential losses to small businesses around Fifth. He approves of the Fourth Avenue version.

Traffic on the fourth

Sound Transit predicts that a shallow station on Fourth Avenue would cost $1.8 billion, or $500 million more than Fifth Avenue, mostly because of the huge roadway above it, says the draft environmental impact statementpublished in January.

About 120 tenants in ICON apartments, overlooking the corner of Fourth and Jackson, should get away for four years, Ridge said. (An ICON representative could not be reached for comment..) Stadium station would close for up to two years and a seven-week train stop would be required between Sodo and the city centre.

Sound Transit would attempt two projects in one, while being hitched to the city of Seattle.

“The reconstruction of the 4th Avenue South overpass could lengthen the overall timeline,” the environmental statement warns.

Rather than a negative, Sound Transit should view this as an opportunity, Uwajimaya’s letter suggests. The Fourth Avenue South overpass is over 100 years old and needs to be replaced anyway. It is better to consolidate the work than to dig the Fifth to continue with a closure on the Fourth.

The community shouldn’t suffer just because the two governments don’t act together, Chow said.

Other groups tout what is called sponsored city Jackson hub vision, to improve walking and gathering spaces. A light rail station on Fourth would provide a nifty transfer to King Street station where Amtrak and Sounder trains go. Union Station, between Fourth and Fifth, would be converted from a simple Sound Transit headquarters to a large lobby, where people could enter from Jackson and then choose either the old station from the International District/Chinatown to head to West Seattle and Everett, or the new station for SeaTac and Ballard.

It is estimated that 30,000 people a day, half on foot, would enter the area of ​​the two stations and a similar number would exit. Fifth Avenue offers a walk closer to residents of the international district of Chinatown, where 65% are people of color, many are seniors, and 80% of housing is subsidized or rent-restricted. Sound Transit believes a site on Fourth would reduce ridership by 1,200 passengers, primarily by making transfers more difficult.

Chong Wa president Betty Lau, 75, rejects the idea that the fourth is more difficult for the elderly. She said they had no trouble climbing the small hills in the area and would walk more, if the city ever cracked down on crime.

Jose P. Rogers