What can Beacon Hill tell Capitol Hill about the light rail construction experience?

The site of the future Capitol Hill light rail station is decorated with various artworks, including this face, while they wait to tear the old buildings down. Photo by Helen Cook -- thanks!
The site of the future Capitol Hill light rail station is decorated with various artworks, including this face, while they wait to tear the old buildings down. Photo by Helen Cook -- thanks!
While our light rail station is scheduled to open next summer, folks up on Capitol Hill are just embarking on their own period of light rail construction, and they want to know what to expect. Browsing the Southeast Seattle neighborhood blogs, they don’t see a lot of complaints at the moment. Of course, this could be because we are near the end of the process, and a lot of us weren’t blogging in the early days of Central Link planning and construction.

So, Beaconians, what should Capitol Hillers expect in the next few years as a large section of Broadway becomes a big hole in the ground? We’ve lived through it and ought to have some useful insights for our neighbors to the north.

11 thoughts on “What can Beacon Hill tell Capitol Hill about the light rail construction experience?”

  1. I’m going to reply with my personal thoughts. We live two blocks from the station.

    Noise, for us, wasn’t a huge issue. We did hear jackhammering off and on during the daytime for quite a while. Now, we don’t usually hear anything. Trucks going up and down the street were no big deal; we already have buses going by, and planes overhead, so the noise of trucks didn’t really bother us. We didn’t have any issues with vibrations from the tunneling, but I think others who were closer to the tunnel did. I think other people had more noise problems than we did, too.

    Having a big ugly blue plywood wall around an entire block, however, is frustrating. We lost several businesses and homes (we didn’t get art on them before the teardown either, unlike Capitol Hill) and some of those businesses didn’t stay on Beacon Hill. We have this big ugly unfriendly-to-pedestrians block right in a prime section of North Beacon Hill now, and it’s annoying. We know it will get better, but it’s frustrating how long it has taken to get here.

    We have been looking forward to seeing what will happen with the rest of the block after ST is done with staging, and last week at the North Beacon Hill Council meeting, we were told that… maybe nothing will happen, for a long time, but chain link fences around the empty lots. Needless to say, this is not what Beaconians want from this, and we hope that something else will happen. (Apparently Sound Transit has only leased the land and it then goes back to the owners. We really hope the owners will put something cool there!)

    Overall, it’s going to be an awesome thing, this light rail, but it is frustrating to get through the construction. And on Broadway, I do think that is going to be tough, losing a big segment of shops. At least Dick’s is still there.

  2. Yeah, I’m a recent enough arrival, and live far enough away from construction that I don’t really notice it unless I’m making a run to Red Apple. That said, I’m really excited about when it opens, even if my house is a little too far away to walk to it easily.

    I think the fact that it will someday stretch to Capital Hill is a grea thing too. My biggest complaint about that Hill is the lack of parking… but the Light Rail would make it possible to get there and back without a car, and that’s pretty neat.

  3. Thanks for the discussion, all. I’m going to be on KUOW this Wednesday morning to talk about light rail construction’s impact on Capitol Hill. It’s good to hear from neighbors who have already been through most of it!

  4. We’re pretty new to the neighborhood (almost 2 yrs) so I can’t speak to the earlier construction at the blue wall site. But both tunnels are about 100 feet below our house. We were here for both passes of the boring machine underneath and did not notice any noise or vibration.

  5. It would be worth talking to some of the folks who were involved in the NBHC and the Beacon Chamber of Commerce back in 2004-05, I believe, when construction issues and mitigation methods were being addressed. I was involved in the noise issue and can suggest some ways to address this. The Beacon HIll construction required a variance of the standard noise rules and an application was made available for public review and a public comment meeting was held. My first suggestion to the Capitol hill folks would be to find someone in the neighborhood who knows permitting, contracting, or general construction issues. As a last resort, pool your money or get a grant to hire a construction management professional to spend a few hours here and there reviewing documents. I found a few substantive errors in the noise permit application. Prior to the noise permit, a survey of ambient noise will be done and this will need strong critique as well. Second, get people to go to the comment meetings. Hardly anyone showed up to the Beacon Hill noise permit public meeting. Third, distribute the final noise conditions and complain when they are not met. Consider setting up independent noise monitoring equipment or convincing ST to contract out the noise monitoring and committing to distributing data to the local community group for review. ST will rely on complaints for enforcement, even when noise limits are exceeded.

    The basic principal to remember is that there are laws, contract specifications, and unenforceable promises. Just because Sound Transit promises something doesn’t mean they have the ability to deliver. It became obvious after a while that ST relies on complaints to deal with nuisance issues such as noise and parking. Assign neighbors to be “enforcers” and come up with some sort of call list so that it doesn’t look like there is one crazy person in the area that calls on every little issue. Some of the community-impact issues should make it into the design and contract specifications from the start, so that ST can’t just say their hands are tied. This is another opportunity for help from a construction management person.

    One other thing on Parking. THis issue isn’t a huge deal on BH, as there is a decent amount of parking surrounding the site, but this needs to be anticipated on Capitol Hill. On BH, the plan was for EL Centro to lease their south lot to ST for contractor parking. It wasn’t long before that area became equipment staging and contractor employees started parking in the neighborhood. ST basically said this is not enforceable and was limited to “encouraging” the contractor to make the El Centro lot more available to employees. THis could have been prevented by a temporary residential parking zone and some enforcement, but the El Centro lot was justification for not being creative with this issue.

  6. I have a suggestion for the Cap Hill crowd: if the construction requires closure of some minor neighborhood street that provides no useful circulation pattern for vehicular traffic, say, like Lander St near the Beacon Hill station… don’t let the city strong-arm you into reopening it for “emergency vehicle access” or any other fictitious reason. Make it public open space associated with the station or something.

  7. Yeah, I’m not really clear on why the street has to be reopened, since we’ve gotten along fine without it since 2004, and it would make a really cool plaza. We could have markets and festivals there.

  8. Wendi, I laughed the first time I heard that. Keep it closed because we haven’t missed it since the big blue wall was built? Have we really not missed it or are we just accepting that we can’t pass that way? I guess I don’t understand the harm in actually evaluating whether it would be missed or not AFTER the station is complete and being used. Is there a fear that such evaluation would determine that there will actually be substantial para-transit, kiss and ride, or pick-up traffic, not to mention business delivery traffic, on that block that would otherwise clog Beacon Ave or 17th? Don’t forget that vacating the alley through the center of the block is being considered, leaving the only vehicle access directly adjacent to the future businesses on the property on either 17th, McClellan, or Beacon, neither of which have lanes to support deliveries, drop-offs, etc. Personally, I like the plan of keeping Lander open as a low-speed, one way boulevard with loading zone parking only and taking (buying back?) a nice swath of the south end of the El Centro property for a public open space adjacent to Lander. No doubt that wouldn’t fly.

  9. “Have we really not missed it or are we just accepting that we can’t pass that way?”

    It’s not a hugely needed thoroughfare and it’s not a terrible hardship that we can’t drive through now. So, yes, I doubt there are many who miss it — except pedestrians who can’t pass through now. Maybe some folks who live further east on Lander, but has it been a major problem for them to go around that block? If it became a no-car plaza, pedestrian access would not be a problem, of course.

    Theoretically it could be a pedestrian plaza while still allowing delivery vehicles when necessary. We see this in plenty of pedestrian squares in Europe.

    This is similar to your suggestion, but it would not allow vehicles other than loading, emergency, etc., and the plaza would be made to look like a plaza, not a street, to encourage pedestrian use.

    We have a good opportunity here to add something that would be a benefit to a pedestrian/transit-oriented North Beacon Hill. It would be nice if we could actually use it.

    As far as dropping people off at the train station, there is a bus stop right on Beacon, so couldn’t that entire block be drop-off space (except for the bus stop)? That’s already a lane being used to pick up/drop off bus passengers.

    Maybe that would be a problem for Beacon Ave traffic; I don’t know. But it seems as if it would be plausible.

    “I guess I don’t understand the harm in actually evaluating whether it would be missed or not AFTER the station is complete and being used. ”

    The harm is that it is much harder (and more expensive) to close a street after it’s been reopened.

  10. Thanks so much everybody. This is exactly the kind of insight and commentary I’m looking for. There is, indeed, a street closing down during the 8 years of construction with plans to re-open it later wider than before :) Nagle Place (along the west side of cal anderson park) would make a lovely pedestrian area.

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