Elevated light rail alignments in West Seattle have a unique problem. Unlike any other part of the system so far, they run through a built-up, residential area. Planned or existing lines are lie mostly in existing right-of-way, or tunnel into their own.
Sound Transit has had to demolish some housing for other projects, mainly at the periphery of neighborhoods. But one of the proposed elevated West Seattle lines, the Yellow/West Seattle Elevated line, would require bulldozing unprecedented parts of two built-up neighborhoods: Youngstown (the northern end of the Delridge area) and the Junction.
Residents have taken notice, forming the East Alaska Junction Neighborhood Coalition (EAJNC), a community group whose site says they “support and look forward to the arrival of a new Link Light rail extension in our area but have concerns about the proposed plans.”
In a letter EAJNC sent to Sound Transit as part of the environmental impact scoping period, the group estimates that the Yellow line would “require the demolition and taking of well over 100 properties” and would cause “substantial negative impacts on at least 50 to 100 more.” The letter includes a map showing, by EAJNC’s reckoning, what buildings would need to be demolished in order to build the alignment.
For their part, Sound Transit estimates that the end-to-end alignment would be the “lower performing” of the three alignments under consideration in terms of “properties potentially effected,” “potential residential unit displacements,” and “potential business displacements.”
In other words, the Yellow line would require the most buildings to be knocked over out of the three lines—though it’s important to remember that the score also includes impacts in other neighborhoods along the line, like Chinatown-International District and Ballard.
In the scoring document, the agency estimates that “more than approximately 180 potential residential unit displacements” would be necessary to build the line, with demolitions “primarily in the Delridge neighborhood and between Avalon and Alaska Junction stations.”
The disparity isn’t limited to the two documents, or even to the Junction. At a recent public meeting, Youngstown residents accused Sound Transit of lowballing the amount of units that would need to be demolished to build an elevated line through their neighborhood. In that meeting, West Seattle’s City Councilmember, Lisa Herbold, questioned project director Cathal Ridge about the disparity.
Most of the buildings the EAJNC letter refers to are single-family homes. However, the alignment would be extremely close to a number of apartment buildings, as the letter indicates. Sound Transit’s conceptual visualizations of the Genesee and Avalon intersection show the Yellow line station nearly abutting the Altamir building. A smaller inset map shows the station covering the southeast corner of the Altamir. The complex has 157 apartments, a mix of one- and two-bedroom units; a Petco; and a QFC.
The visualizations leave the fate of Altamir and other multifamily buildings ambiguous. Some buildings farther down the hill to the east are pictured, implausibly, immediately below the Avalon station.
But there is no doubt that the station’s location would eliminate a large swath of land that could hold dense, affordable housing instead of a guideway. The entire block bounded by Southwest Oregon, Southwest Alaska, 41st Avenue Southwest, and 40th Avenue Southwest would have to go to the Link station and guideway.
Other parts of the surrounding parcel in the immediate walkshed of the station would also be blocked by the guideway. In fact, the chance that the final alignment might take the land out of play was the reason that Herbold removed the relevant upzones from the HALA package earlier this year.
Indeed, Sound Transit’s scoring of the Yellow line also points out that the line offers “limited equitable development opportunities in West Seattle compared to West Seattle Tunnel Alternatives because elevated alignment results in fewer large surplus lots.”
Regardless of the impact of the Yellow line on present housing, an elevated guideway and station would, by definition, limit developable land within the walkshed. One of the critical goals of Link expansion is inducing transit-oriented development—but the Yellow line would do the opposite. To stay within budget and create a viable elevated option, Sound Transit needs to get creative.