I’m as big a supporter of light rail as anybody, but I gotta admit that businesses and residents down here in my little corner of Southeast Seattle kinda got screwed.
First, the station originally planned for MLK and S. Graham got scrapped for cost cutting and other reasons, making the years of construction just a little less bearable. And now that the construction is done and the trains are running (if only for testing), the realignments have made crossing MLK on S. Graham a hazard and an annoyance.
S. Graham is the main route to and from I-5 for miles around, and as such, has long made its intersection with MLK an attractive, if relatively low rent, business district. And anchoring this business district is a somewhat decrepit strip mall featuring a Viet Wah supermarket and a Union 76 station on the northeast corner.
Living just a block south of S. Graham, and a couple blocks east of Rainier, the Viet Wah (or the Red Apple before it) has always been my closest supermarket, and its reasonable prices on a large selection of produce, seafood and asian ingredients have kept me a loyal customer. But like many customers, my stops there are usually on the way home from somewhere else… a convenience that, thanks to Sound Transit and SDOT alas, no longer exists.
As the Rainier Valley Post reports, SDOT is responding to growing traffic problems at this intersection by installing C-curbs in the median on S. Graham, to physically prevent left turns into and out of the corner properties. Combined with the tracks running down the center of MLK, this will serve to severely limit access to the affected businesses.
For example, heading south on MLK, I can no longer access the Viet Wah at all. No left from MLK, no left from S. Graham; southbound traffic simply can’t get there from here. And while I can still make a right into these businesses from westbound S. Graham and northbound MLK, upon leaving, I can no longer make a left onto S. Graham to head home. I have to make a right onto MLK, a right onto Juneau or Orcas, and then circle back through residential streets and past the playfields behind Aki Kurose.
From my perspective, you might as well just pick up these businesses and move them half a mile north. Problem for them is, I tend not to patronize the businesses half a mile north, because I rarely drive by them.
Now, you may find this complaint petty, and maybe in the larger scheme of things it is, but it is also human nature. “Location, location, location” is the mantra of real estate, and for good reason. And for many of the intersection’s businesses, the corner of MLK and S. Graham is no longer nearly as good a location as it once was. Think about how often you’ve circled a half-mile out of your way to choose one gas station over another just down the road, and then think about the predicament of independent Union 76 franchisee Gurdev Mann, in the midst of $400,000 worth of improvements on his property, suddenly learning that a quarter of the traffic driving by the corner no longer has access to his establishment.
I’m not sure what the solution is. The backups on S. Graham are more than just an annoyance to thru-traffic; it’s a hazard that at times threatens to trap cars in the intersection, and perhaps in the path of the train. And the affected businesses have been complaining about the problem for months, the manager of the Viet Wah going so far as to stand out in the street and direct traffic himself at times.
But by unilaterally installing C-curbs without buy-in from local businesses, SDOT has only inflamed the ire of local business owners against itself and Sound Transit.