By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
When community leader Nora Chan first spoke at last year’s Sound Transit (ST) meeting, she said, “I am doing this for the next generation, I won’t see the station built” in the Chinatown-International District (CID), implying her senior status.
Instead, the ST board voted last week in favor of the “North of CID option” to construct the hub station by 2037 in Pioneer Square. To the disappointment of many CID seniors who wanted the station built on 4th Avenue under the Union Station, it was quite a shock. They waved massive red signs with the words “4th,” wore red T-shirts, and spoke in numbers in hopes of swaying the board.
They argued for 4th due to the convenience factor to have a station right in their own backyard. Health and disability issues affect elderly people walking to Pioneer Square, they said in Chinese through translators.
I am a senior, too. And I share the same sentiments as the seniors. I too prefer to see a CID station connecting the Eastside, Lynnwood, Ballard, West Seattle, and Federal Way as I am a CID resident and business owner.
And I seconded what Chan said. I am writing this article because I am doing it for the sake of our next generation. Do I think the station would get built in 2037? Definitely “NO!” It’s not even a doubtful “no.”
Examine those big government projects in the history of construction: Were there delays and budget overruns? From the 99 tunnel and the present ST extensions to inside and outside the city, all had construction delays due to unforeseen circumstances. When construction was planned, there was no pandemic, global strike, or supply chain issues.
Frankly, those in their late 60s, 70s, and me are unlikely to outlive the number of years required for the station to be completed. The “convenience” argument is also dwarfed by the inconvenience factor as it might have to replace and demolish the City’s existing 4th Avenue South viaduct at Union Station.
Most of us assumed that it would make sense and be cheaper to build a new station next to an existing one. Who would have thought that it would actually cost much more and be cumbersome to add to a nearby facility?! It would have cost an additional $800 million, not to mention that it would cause more delays to the project. Those concerns legitimize the board choosing the North option.
If 4th is chosen…
Do the elderly know that their experiences would be better if 4th is picked? The disruptive side effects of having a station built in the community are monstrous, including all the buses having to be rerouted from the CID. You wouldn’t be able to cross the road on South Jackson Street as they would be blocked for construction, and it would be impossible for potential visitors to visit CID. This doesn’t even include years of cleanup post-construction. There will be little escape or alternatives for residents and business owners in the next 13 years.
I am sad too to lose a CID station, which would provide vital resources and prosperity for our neighborhood, future generations, and a strategic connection to the outside world when it’s done. For us to lose the possibility of 4th station, a community asset, makes me wonder sometimes if we can have it both ways.
But the price and risk we have to pay during construction is too big and too drastic. After it is completed, the CID might be destroyed.
Those who have the choice would move out if they can afford it. And businesses that could afford it, might have financial means to counter the consequence. However, for those who are choiceless, they would be stuck for more than a decade and forced to watch helplessly as our community is being slowly decimated by construction. For CID preservation and survival, we are forced to give up the 4th station. Sigh!!!
This is precisely an important element in the decisions of Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and other officials who opted for the North option.
Who wants to be accused of and remembered in history as “killers of Chinatown?”
We are all winners
Community members were split to lobby the North-South and 4th option for the new station. Those who celebrated that the ST board picked the North option, shouldn’t consider themselves the only winners. We are all winners. We should be proud that the community is so vocal and engaged with decision makers in this fight. It’s significant that we examine diverse views on multiple fronts and the ability to present those views in thoughtful messages to decision makers. I believe our community has achieved that goal.
What we should celebrate together is that, it was only a year ago that we learned that the ST board was considering 5th Avenue South as a connecting station. That would have been a total disaster in terms of displacements and gentrification. But the community fought relentlessly to get rid of that option. Early this year, officials completely ditched it. We did it together.
The AAPI community is a family, and differences in views are normal. We should respect each other’s views. It’s time for us to move forward as we will have to work together for future challenges and many more issues will be for us to solve.
Thanks to Nora Chan, Betty Lau, Brien Chow, and Denise Moriguchi who spoke out at the forefront of several meetings and organized special tours for media and officials to learn about the community’s needs. Bettie Luke, Gei Chan, Chrissy Shimizu, and many more have worked tirelessly to galvanize community members to attend meetings and speak out. In every meeting, our community’s effort in mobilizing turnout was impressive in voice and numbers.
As a community, we must not forget how we have empowered each other in many conflicts over the last two years, including getting the county to back down from building a mega SODO homeless shelter on the CID border. The community has set high bars in presenting our needs, and our voices are stronger than I have ever seen in our 41 years of publishing.
The ST decision has reflected an incredible milestone in CID community building and maturity. For that, we are grateful for everyone’s effort in developing strategy to deal with outside forces, and simultaneously making our community better.
The solution for the elderly
Hong Kong’s solution, perhaps! In 1993, the Central–Mid-Levels escalator and walkway system was built in Hong Kong, as the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world. The system covers over 2,600 feet in distance and traverses an elevation of over 443 feet from bottom to top to reach up the hill. When I was a high school student in Hong Kong, walking from downtown to up the hill was brutal for me, even though I was young. Imagine all the elderly people walking up the hill. The escalator-walkway was a brilliant concept.
Seattle can build a sky bridge with a covered escalator and a walkway system for anyone in a hurry or who can’t walk, just like the one in Hong Kong. It shortens the time for travelers and helps those who carry heavy things like luggage.
The Sea-Tac International Airport is also designed with an escalator walkway throughout different sections. Maybe this is what Seattle and the ST board can do for people who don’t want to walk to the Pioneer Square station.
The North option might not be perfect. But for now, people realize that the CID will be intact and not wither away years from now.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.