Sound Transit will brief the public and stakeholders on the latest West Seattle-Ballard concepts tonight, and what it shows could make a ruckus. So far, ST has tipped a preference for siting the Chinatown station and segment on 5th Avenue South. But a coalition of neighborhood groups and transit advocates is rooting for a 4th Avenue station and alignment.
Maiko Winkler-Chin, the executive director of the Chinatown/International District Public Development authority (SCIDPDA), is one of the community leaders arguing for the 4th Avenue alignment. The First Hill streetcar project made the neighborhood’s businesses and residents wary of rosy government agency claims about construction impacts.
“For me, my responsibility in the neighborhood is to make sure that we don’t suffer big impacts, or we don’t suffer impacts at all,” Winkler-Chin says. “This neighborhood has dealt with a lot of transportation impacts. I don’t know if people know how bad it was to have the First Hill streetcar built in this neighborhood. I was told that was going to be like a paving project. That as a paving project that never seemed to end.”
“We had an electrical cutoff in the neighborhood, for 15 or 16 hours. We had multiple water cutoff notices—attempts at water cutoffs, and actual water cutoffs. The timing and coordination of doing that sort of work is really difficult because of the unique nature of the businesses down here.”
Winkler-Chin says that some restaurants in the neighborhood were surprised when their water and electricity went out, and says that retailers suffered major drop offs in business due to sidewalk and street closures.
Winkler-Chin says that Little Saigon’s retailers were hit particularly hard. Construction crews closed the 12th and Jackson intersection during the lunar New Year. That’s one of the Vietnamese diaspora’s most cherished holidays, and the neighborhood’s busiest shopping season. According to Winkler-Chin, Little Saigon merchants didn’t know that the closure was coming, and the closure depressed customer traffic and disrupted deliveries.
No street level retailers or apartment buildings occupy the superblock between Jackson and Seattle Boulevard South on 4th. The parallel stretch of 5th features several large apartment buildings, street-level retailers and restaurants, and the west side of the Uwajimaya complex. As a result, Winkler-Chin says, the 5th Avenue project would be much more disruptive.
Winkler-Chin also points out that the 4th Avenue alignment could reactivate Union Station as a public space and multimodal hub. Transit advocates, neighborhood groups and downtown leaders have long wanted to better integrate Union and King Street stations into the surrounding neighborhoods.
“I’m trying to minimize impacts to this neighborhood,” Winkler-Chin says. “Other people want a vibrant and functioning Union Station. If we could do both, that’s great.”