A Sound Transit committee held a special workshop last week to discuss the multi-billion-dollar project that plans to provide light rail connections between West Seattle and Ballard. The routes will travel to and through numerous communities in Seattle including the Chinatown-International District (CID).
Final decisions about the project are expected next year. But residents and businesses in the CID are concerned that it’s happening too fast.
Uwajimaya sent a 10-page letter—signed by Denise and Miye Moriguchi and Kenneth Louie—asking Sound Transit to extend the deadline and take more time to study the impacts in partnership with community stakeholders.
It pointed to the inadequate environmental impact analysis in regards to connectivity, property acquisition and displacement, air quality, noise, and the impact on historic and cultural resources.
Uwajimaya stated, “The CID station area is the only station area densely populated by communities of color in the West Seattle and Ballard Link Extensions (WSBLE) project corridor. A majority of CID residents are of Chinese ethnicity, but there are also sizable communities of residents of Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Filipino ancestry.
“Sound Transit should select an alternative that considers and accounts for these equity issues and avoid selecting an alternative that creates greater disparity and further harm to this historically under-resourced community.
Sound Transit’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) presents two Alternatives—the 4th Avenue Alternative, with a shallow (CID-1a) and deep option (CID-1b), and the 5th Avenue Alternative, with a shallow (CID-2a), shallow diagonal CID 2a), and deep option (CID-2b).
Uwajimaya wrote, “Although the DEIS does not identify a preferred alternative, the environmental analysis indicates Sound Transit’s unstated preference for the 5th Avenue Shallow Alternative, particularly the CID-2a diagonal option. This is evidenced by the skewed analysis that underreports the comparative benefits of the 4th Avenue Alternative, while downplaying the adverse impacts of the 5th Avenue Alternative. Although we maintain the DEIS does not adequately analyze the environmental impacts of any of the CID Alternatives, the information provided to date confirms the 5th Avenue Alternative options would once again marginalize this important minority community.”
Here are other excerpts from Uwajimaya’s letter:
Property acquisition and displacement
The DEIS fails to adequately evaluate property acquisition and displacement impacts. The DEIS notes the 5th Avenue Shallow Alternative would result in acquisition of 16-19 properties. But it does not clarify or consider that several of these properties are located in the cultural heart of the CID and owned by people of color.
During the years of CID Station construction, the Historic Chinatown Gate would be covered for protection. The symbolism of Sound Transit literally covering up the Historic Chinatown Gate so that it can acquire CID property—from people of color—and strip this unique community of its historic identity would be a significant misstep and a repeat of historic public-project mistakes that we urge Sound Transit not to make.
The DEIS fails to analyze air quality impacts on the CID as required by federal regulations.
A 2020 CID Healthy Community Action Plan study showed that people living and working in the CID are less healthy than those in other neighborhoods in Seattle and King County, with an average lifespan seven years shorter than that of most well-off communities.
With this inequity lens, we would expect Sound Transit to exceed requirements to study air quality for this vulnerable population that already is experiencing significant health disparities.
The DEIS similarly failed to adequately evaluate noise impacts on the CID community. The DEIS lists the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Category 1 and Special Building Noise Sensitive Receivers that were analyzed.
This list does not include any properties within the CID, but the entirety of the “Seattle Historic Chinatown District” is considered a special use that merits “special consideration.”
Per the FTA Transit Noise and Vibration Impact Assessment Manual, “historic sites” require “special consideration.” “Historic sites” are defined to include any historic districts in the National Register of Historic Places. The “Seattle Historic Chinatown District” was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989 and includes a majority of what is commonly characterized as the CID today.
Therefore, specialized analysis of noise impacts to the “Seattle Historic Chinatown District” is required.
Historic and cultural resources
The DEIS notes the CID is listed as a National Historic District with many historic buildings and spaces. The DEIS then, in a few short paragraphs, acknowledges all the CID Alternatives would adversely affect the historic resources of the CID, and this acknowledgement is the extent of the analysis. The DEIS does not provide any evaluation of the nature of these impacts on the historic vitality of the CID community, or any other meaningful issue that should have been addressed in this context. This omission is particularly concerning when dealing with a historically unique and marginalized community.
Requested course of action
We therefore ask that Sound Transit defer selection of a preferred alternative and conduct a more thorough evaluation of the impacts of the CID Alternatives—in partnership with key community stakeholders—and provide more meaningful and specific mitigation.
Additionally, we urge Sound Transit to incorporate more coordinated and inclusive planning into the CID Alternatives. Specifically, Sound Transit should address the community’s vision for the Jackson Hub. The Jackson Hub concept plan was finalized in March 2019 through a coordinated effort led by the Alliance for Pioneer Square, Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority, and Historic South Downtown. This coalition sought input from numerous government agencies, including Sound Transit. Based on this input and feedback from the community, the coalition produced a vision for a Jackson Hub as an activated and welcoming pedestrian-transit center that provides missing connections between the CID, Pioneer Square, and the numerous transit corridors scattered throughout the area.
Similar to the WSBLE, the purpose of the Jackson Hub is to provide connectivity and enhance community vitality. However, the DEIS is oddly silent regarding coordinated planning to achieve this Jackson Hub vision.
The CID is a unique and treasured community that merits special consideration. We appreciate Sound Transit’s continued outreach and listening to this community, because it is only through a deep understanding of—and meaningful engagement with—this community that Sound Transit will be able to make the right decision.
post-covid morning and afternoon peak ridership has dropped and with all the challenges the 2nd tunnel is facing (so deep that access and transfers will be challenging), many comments on the Seattle Transit Blog question its need and Jonathan proposes a unique way to connect the existing tunnel to Ballard: https://seattletransitblog.com/2022/03/15/are-st3s-deep-stations-a-problem/
So why don’t we skip the 2nd tunnel, build the CC street car connection, and utilize the existing tunnel better?
John Dibble says
Sound Transit has its published version of reality, which rarely matches the facts. They make their decisions in board rooms and from behind desks, rarely if ever wandering into the areas that will be most affected. Decisions should not be driven by project cost alone. The uncalculated cost to lives and livelihoods for decades to come is a reality no environmental impact study is prepared to cover. Place the politics aside and make decisions that are best for the community you will serve, not for the future community you plan to reshape it into.