CID organizations fear light rail station options are more harmful than Sound Transit analysis suggests

The CID door at 5th Avenue. S. and S. King. In its comments for Sound Transit, Historic South Downtown wrote
that building the station on 5th Avenue would ‘violate the promises and stated goals’ of racial equity
Toolkit, on which Sound Transit and the City of Seattle partnered to plan the project. Photo of Chetanya

Community organizations in the Chinatown International District wrote letters to Sound Transit concerned about the impacts of the agency’s plans to build a second light rail station in the neighborhood.

In the letters, submitted as part of the public comments on the project of Sound Transit Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the light rail expansion, the organizations said the DEIS does not adequately assess the impacts of the project on the neighborhood. The option to build the station on 5th Avenue was widely considered unacceptable due to business displacement and neighborhood disruption.

“We determined that Sound Transit’s assessments ultimately did not fully account for and explain how the expansion will irreversibly change the neighborhood,” reads a Wing Luke Museum newsletter.

The Sound Transit Board will choose from five options for where and how to build the new CID station, as part of a voter-approved expansion in 2016.

The options are all either on 4th Avenue or 5th Avenue, built shallow or deep (like Beacon Hill station). The fifth option is a shallow diagonal station option under 5th Avenue.

In a letter to Sound Transit, the Chong Wa Benevolent Association urged Sound Transit to choose a station location on 4th Avenue to minimize “unnecessary travel and disruption to local businesses and especially the more than 1,200 non-English speaking elderly residents”.

“Many local businesses cannot survive years of construction disruptions, exacerbated by the pandemic and recent hate crimes against Asian Americans,” the letter said.

In its comments for Sound Transit, Historic South Downtown (HSD) wrote that building the station on 5th Avenue would “violate the promises and stated goals” of the Racial Equity Toolkit, on which Sound Transit and the City of Seattle have partnered to plan the project. According to HSD, this choice would have “direct and permanent impacts” on four to six buildings eligible for the national register or classified, as well as indirect and construction impacts on others. “There is an open question as to whether the long-term, direct and indirect impacts of the 5th Avenue S. options could be mitigated at all,” HSD said.

Many organizations have compared the Sound Transit expansion to other public infrastructure projects that have had a disproportionate impact on the CID, from the I-5 expansion to the construction of the Kingdome and the construction of the tramway to zoning changes. “For a neighborhood that exists due to historically racist policies such as redlining and lack of municipal services, our neighborhood once again faces an uncertain fate,” reads the Wing Luke Museum newsletter.

According to the Wing, the DEIS “rely on limited information to assess historical and archaeological resources”, does not include enough specific information about what would be impacted or displaced in the neighborhood, and neglects to take into account the Japanese American Remembrance Trail and the Redlining Heritage. Track.

Because the wing sees the CID neighborhood as an extension of its exhibits, it fears the project will harm the visitor experience and contribute to “the disintegration of the cultural and historical fabric of our neighborhood, which is already suffering from disintegration. “, and therefore to harm the sustainability of the museum. , according to his comments forwarded to Sound Transit.

International Community Health Services (ICHS), like other organizations, supports a second light rail station in the neighborhood and said it would have positive impacts, but criticized DEIS for being too cursory in assessing impacts on neighborhood, making it difficult for stakeholders to make an informed decision on which option to support.

The ICHS said it is likely more displacement of small businesses and residents will occur than the DEIS suggests.

The ICHS letter raised concerns that moving bus service from 5th Avenue to 7th or 8th Avenue – which would take years – would disrupt patient and staff drop-off and pick-up and operations ICHS sites, including a mammography tractor-trailer that provides breast cancer screenings, food delivery to the Legacy House assisted living facility, ambulance service and more.

ICHS and other organizations have criticized Sound Transit for not performing a sound analysis of the project. ICHS said DEIS is unaware that hundreds of residents live in parts of the CID whose health could be affected by noise pollution. ICHS added that a visual assessment of project impacts was missing.

Both COVID-19 and anti-Asian racism “tested the resilience of the neighborhood”, ICHS noted, and “were not fully considered when writing the DEIS”. These problems particularly affect the elderly, some of whom are afraid to venture outside for fear of attack.

The InterIm Community Development Association agreed that Sound Transit should remember anti-Asian hatred when designing the station. “[T]The physical environment of the tunnel or station should be designed to prevent these attacks,” the organization wrote.

InterIm also called on Sound Transit to seek “better alternatives with less adverse community impacts” in its letter, raising concerns about long-term indirect displacement caused by a 4th or 5th Avenue station.

Although the DEIS recognizes the direct impacts of displacement, it does not take into account the indirect displacement caused by the rise in land values ​​and rents associated with the project, wrote InterIm, which could displace businesses, community services and culturally organizations. important long after construction is complete.

InterIm and others said the DEIS does not have a safety plan for pedestrians using sidewalks near construction zones. InterIm said that given the importance of the CID for the Asian diaspora in the region, a better plan is needed to address how the construction could make it more difficult for people to reach the CID by bus for work or cultural events. InterIm expressed concern that construction on 4th Avenue would eliminate more than 200 parking spaces, disrupting access for people who must drive to the neighborhood to buy groceries, receive medical treatment or services. social services.

The Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda) and HSD wrote that a shallow station on 4th Avenue would be the least impactful of all the options.

“The impacts of Fifth Avenue alternatives are existential for the Chinatown-International District,” HSD wrote, a statement shared by SCIDpda, the Chinatown International District Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA), and Friends of Little Saigon (FLS). The latter three organizations sent nearly identical letters to Sound Transit, calling the 5th Avenue options unacceptable unless ST “significantly further minimizes the effects of construction” or moves construction farther from the neighborhood.

The construction would close key streets in the neighborhood and “create noise, dust, truck traffic and visual impacts that would impede or prevent community gatherings and activities in Hing Hay Park and other outdoor spaces, and would affect the quality of life of residents of Uwajimaya village. , Fujisada Condominium, Publix Building and Bush Hotel, many of whom are elderly or living with disabilities,” according to SCIDpda.

SCIDpda engaged Sound Transit to conduct an in-depth study on how to minimize the impacts of constructing the shallow station options and share the results with the community prior to the final EIA.

The 5th Avenue options have the most potential for new transit-oriented development (TOD), according to DEIS. Any such development should prioritize community ownership, according to SCIDpda and InterIm, to avoid increasing the risk of displacement and gentrification of the neighborhood. “These measures must take the form of explicit legal commitments; the promise of a TOD opportunity alone is not sufficient mitigation or incentive to support a Fifth Avenue alignment,” according to SCIDpda.

SCIDpda, FLS, and CIDBIA wrote that closing 4th Avenue to build a train station and diverting north-south traffic through the neighborhood would increase congestion and could have environmental health effects like injury to pedestrians, car accidents, exposure to car exhaust and more.

SCIDpda and others have criticized deep station options as inadequate for the large number of people who use public transit for stadium events. Elevators frequently break down, the SCIDpda wrote, and will not be safe to use during another pandemic.

The public comment period ended on April 28. Feedback sent to Sound Transit will help inform a final environmental impact statement, due for release in 2023. Only then will the Sound Transit Board select one of five final routes and station locations. . Design and construction are expected to start in 2026.

Members of the public still have the opportunity to stay engaged and provide feedback on the project as work on the final version of the environmental impact statement progresses. The Sound Transit Board System Expansion Committee will meet about the project on June 9 and the Sound Transit Board will meet on June 23. The Seattle City Council will also vote on the project in the future.

The Chong Wa Benevolent Association’s letter to Sound Transit called for public comment to be extended until May 28 to give limited English speakers more time to comment on the options and their impact.

Activist group CID Coalition wrote to Sound Transit asking for a 90-day extension to the public comment period for the DEIS. The group wants to use the extra time to conduct outreach activities with community members who may not be aware of the project and its impacts, including limited English speakers and homeless people. The CID Coalition letter has been shared by organizations including Puget Sound Sage, API Coalition Advocating Together for Health (APICAT), Seattle Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, OCA Asian Pacific Advocates of Greater Seattle, Egg Rolls/ ChuMinh Mutual Aid, and several companies.

“[W]We are adamant that all voices and perspectives are heard on a project that proposes to traverse the heart of our neighborhood,” the letter read.

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