Subway project disrupts Chinatown

Updated: 2013-12-04 09:29

By Chen Jia in San Francisco (China Daily USA)

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The buses on Stockton and Washington streets in San Francisco's Chinatown are always overloaded with passengers, even during off-peak commuting times.

But the narrow, busy streets are losing their prosperity because of a $1.58 billion central subway construction project.

"My restaurant has lost 70 percent of its business since the sidewalks closed around the construction," said the boss of Lucky Creation Vegetarian Restaurant, who asked not to be named. The Chinese restaurant has 12 employees.

"But I didn't get any economic compensation like the merchants at Union Square did, where there is also subway construction going on," she said.

On Tuesday, Chinatown and North Beach business owners and residents gathered at the subway construction sites and discussed the severe impact the projects were having on their lives.

"Merchants' ability to function during the lucrative holiday season is impaired by construction disruption, and the closure of Washington Street in Chinatown worsens traffic flows," Huang Jianquan, a community leader, said on Tuesday.

Also, residents near the construction sites in Chinatown and North Beach have to put up with construction disruption during the holiday season, he said.

"The Chinese New Year is coming. Everyone loves to shop and dine in Chinatown. But they shouldn't have to bear such an unfair financial burden," he said.

Unlike wealthy Union Square's holiday moratorium, the SF Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) will continue construction in Chinatown and North Beach through the holidays.

"What we want is a central subway construction moratorium from now through New Year's in Chinatown and North Beach," he said.

The current Chinatown schedule for the central subway holiday construction is between 7 am and 3:30 pm Monday through Friday.

"Chinatown and North Beach were both recently recognized for their unique neighborhoods. Both 'hoods contribute to city hall with a hefty yearly $7 billion in revenue from the tourist industry," Wilma Pang, a Chinese American who has lived in San Francisco Chinatown for more than 30 years, told China Daily on Tuesday.

"City Hall takes for granted this cash cow will survive on its own and turns a blind eye and a deaf ear to its number-one green industry and opts for the destruction of historical buildings for a questionable central subway, chasing every artist out," she said.

"I ask, what is SF without its street musicians, living artists, and historical buildings? Will visitors ditch the cable cars for riding the subway all the way to Fisherman's Wharf?"

"What made San Francisco famous in the 50's were the beatniks on Upper Grant in North Beach and the busy live poultry markets on Lower Grant in Chinatown. Today, Lower Grant is so quiet local merchants wish more pedestrians would shop at their art supply stores," she added.

The 165-year-old San Francisco Chinatown was ranked as one of the "Top 10 Great Neighborhoods" in the United States by the American Planning Association in 2013.

Six years ago, some leaders of San Francisco's Chinatown community pushed for bringing a central subway to their congested neighborhood.

In 2010, the Transportation Authority Board adopted a Baseline Budget, Schedule and Funding Plan for the project. The Central Subway is the second phase of the Third Street Light Rail line, which opened in 2007.

The Central Subway is expected to carry nearly 73,000 passengers a day, making it the second most utilized rail project in the Federal New Starts Program, according to San Francisco County Transportation Authority.

"The Washington Street sidewalks will be closed about two years, and the underground work here will last four years," an anonymous construction work told China Daily on site.

"We have great transportation in San Francisco if you look from the east to the west. But a central subway would provide citizens and tourists the first rail connection from the south to the north," Jose Solis, a San Francisco resident, told China Daily on Tuesday.

"It's something that the city doesn't currently have, and I don't think it is necessary to complain too much about it," he said.

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