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February 14, 2013 at 7:19 AM
Seattle mayoral candidates respond, and don’t respond, on streetcar construction in Chinatown-ID
On Saturday, our opinion section ran an editorial about how the First Hill streetcar construction derailed the Lunar New Year festivities in the Chinatown-International District. The city of Seattle turned a deaf ear to merchant requests to close the intersection of South Jackson Street and 12th Avenue South on the two weekends before the new year. As our editorial said,
“That sounds like a planning mistake made by someone who shows up for a lion dance, but knows nothing of a business cycle that supports a fragile neighborhood. “
I researched this editorial on behalf of the editorial board, and here is how three of the other mayoral candidates responded to requests for interviews on the subject. I called and emailed candidates Tim Burgess, Bruce Harrell and Peter Steinbrueck to ask how they would have handled the situation if they were elected mayor of Seattle.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn’s spokesman Aaron Pickus said in a phone interview, “We can’t suspend. This is a regional investment that we’re managing, even suspending like that, that is a recent request, suspending for two weeks would delay the project for multiple months.” He said, “We make it a priority to listen to the community and strike the balance,” and added that the city is giving $185,000 to support Chinatown-ID neighborhood programs.
(On Wednesday, the news side reported that McGinn rolled back increases in parking rates and hours in Chinatown-ID after many restaurants complained that the changes hurt businesses. It’s good to see that the city is not just listening but responding, albeit a year after people complained. Most small ethnic businesses don’t have the margins to wait a year.)
Peter Steinbrueck, a former Seattle City Council member, called the streetcar construction in January and February “terrible timing.” “I would describe this chaos and destruction caused by the streetcar construction as complete lack of sensitivity to the community, the cultural tradition and the fragile nature of family businesses in Chinatown-ID,” he said, adding the city also ignored the concerns of waterfront merchants in relocating utilities during the tourist season.
The campaign for Tim Burgess, a City Council member, responded by email and referred me to the mayor’s office and the Seattle Department of Transportation. When he heard about concerns over the spur that will be built in front of a health clinic for uninsured patients, “Tim made sure the city made some modifications such as pouring the concrete in a way that ensured wheel chairs could cross, as well as including more ramps,” Alex Fryer wrote in an email.
Bruce Harrell’s campaign did not respond to a phone call or an email before my deadline. Harrell is also a City Council member.