Seattle’s new light rail could threaten Chinatown, community reacts – AsAmNews
By Rachel Tao, AsAmNews intern
Residents fear Seattle’s Chinatown International District may face encroachment due to a new light rail route planned to run through the neighborhood.
Sound Transit, in charge of building Seattle’s regional transit service, is preparing for an extension of the West Seattle-Ballard light rail that will run a second set of tracks through the neighborhood, reports South Seattle Emerald. Depending on the path taken, opponents say this expansion could evict businesses, demolish historic buildings and further uproot the community, so many people in the majority-minority area have pushed back.
The Sound Transit Board stressed that the plans are not yet finalized.
“For CID, several alternatives are being considered,” a Sound Transit representative told AsAmNews. “The Sound Transit Board has not identified a preferred alternative for this segment.”
The representative also sent AsAmNews the following table comparing alternative routes.
The transit agency said it would consider feedback from community members. The new light rail line and associated station are at least a decade away; Sound Transit has set the target date for 2035.
When asked for comment, the City of Seattle Transit Advisory Council appeared to stand with community members.
“TAB agrees with the community, business owners, visitors, transit riders and residents that any decisions made must not repeat the inequities and displacements this community has experienced,” their statement read. AsAmNews. “It is essential for Sound Transit to center the voices of the CID community while choosing the best alternative.”
The debate centers on whether to create the second station in the International District below 4th or 5th Avenue and whether the route should be shallow or deep. For some community advocates, the choice is clear.
“Go down 4th,” Brien Chow told South Seattle Emerald. Chow is chairman of the outreach committee of the Chong Wa Benevolent Association, a long-standing grassroots organization in the community. “It’s really a small sacrifice compared to the removal of our neighborhood.”
According to Sound Transit’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement, a 5th Avenue station would have an entrance next to the historic Chinatown Gate and displace more businesses. Sound Transit is expected to destroy businesses along a stretch of 5th Avenue and is expected to acquire most of the land along a stretch of 6th Avenue, including a parking lot and a building with several restaurants.
“We can’t afford to lose the remaining buildings and land surrounding the few blocks there,” said Jesse Tam, director of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce at South Seattle Emerald. “We have a vibrant economic community that serves hundreds of thousands of neighborhood consumers and residents; our space is tight with very limited space to grow or expand.
4th Avenue costs about half a billion dollars more than the 5th Avenue options, but it is nevertheless the preferred route of many in the neighborhood because Sound Transit plans show that this choice would not permanently displace any company in the central part of the international district; construction activity would be at the boundaries of the district. However, this would require rebuilding a road that supports 30,000 vehicles per day.
“There will still be impacts, but it will be bearable because the big impacts will be farther from the neighborhood,” Betty Lau told South Seattle Emerald. Lau is a 71-year-old teacher who is also another leader of the Chong Wa Benevolent Association.
“We have nowhere to go in Seattle,” she added. “We have always taken the least desirable land, and as soon as it becomes valuable, we are evicted.” The neighborhood has a long history of racism and redlining that has repeatedly displaced the community since its founding in the mid-19th century. Gentrification is at the forefront of concerns for residents, who are not only of Chinese descent, but also of Japanese, Filipino and Vietnamese descent, among others.
In the past, the area has suffered several encroaching public works projects, reports the Seattle Times. These projects include railroad overpasses, Interstate 5, the Old Kingdom, and a new streetcar line. As a result, community trust in the government of Seattle and Sound Transit has eroded.
“What the Sound Transit plan will do is it will only accelerate the nature of the threat to the continuation of the international district of Chinatown,” said Native American museum administrator Larry Yok. influential Asian, to the Seattle Times.
At a public forum in March reported by The Seattle Times, sentiment leaned toward a Fifth Avenue option, likely due to concerns about Fourth Avenue traffic and cost. On the other hand, in individual comments in Chinese, about three-quarters of respondents preferred the fourth.
“It’s the last position for us, to keep our traditions, to have a culture, a place to get together as a family,” Lau told the Seattle Times.
Whatever decision is made is sure to affect the community for decades to come.
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