Rainier City RapidRide: Gentrification, Efficiency, and Seattle’s Changing Landscape

by Mary Hubert

Earlier this year, the Emerald covered the arrival of RapidRide in Rainier Valley—a new transit line that will subsume the Route 7 bus entirely, replacing it with transportation that will speed riders to Downtown Seattle in just 15 minutes.

The plan includes attempts to involve the community of South Seattle by hosting community events, providing briefings, and creating online resources for curious would-be riders to explore (provided they have access to a computer). The proposal touts shorter wait times, fewer crashes, and wider lanes so all metro users will have access to reliable, speedy transit.

When we previously spoke to Dawn Schellenberg, a Community Engagement Liaison with SDOT, she touched on these points, explaining how SDOT uses a mixture of route data and community outreach to create routes that feel safer and more streamlined than they have been in the past.

However, many community events have been poorly attended, and the bulk of the plan the city has created is data-oriented and centered on point-to-point effectiveness rather than reflective of residents’ opinions or needs.

“The number 7 [is] a rolling common space that expressed the diversity present in the South End,” said Emmanuel “Mano” da Silva, a longtime resident of South Seattle. “I worry about the intention of the RapidRide. Has it been designed with the requests and needs of the people already present or is it replicating the desires of wealthier, white, Northend folks?”

Among the reasons cited by the city for changing Route 7 to RapidRide is convenience—and it will certainly make commutes to downtown easier. With the increase in housing costs in Seattle, employees of tech companies are looking to buy farther and farther from the city’s center. RapidRide will succeed in turning Rainier Beach into a community that is a hop, skip, and jump away from South Lake Union.

“If RapidRide only solves problems that have been expressed by wealthier white folks, then that’s naturally going to push out the South End community,” says Mano, who views this convenience as a negative. And pushing low-income metro riders away from the 7 will prove catastrophic for many.

The 7, described as “Metro’s flagship route” by driver Nathan Vass, is the system’s longest and busiest route. It links Rainier Beach, Rainier Valley, Columbia City, the International District, and downtown.

And much of the enormous population that Route 7 serves is transit-dependent, says Vass. “The 7 is a lifeline. These communities, individuals, and families would not survive without the route. To witness the epic deluge of passengers descending upon the Rainier Food Bank on Saturdays is to appreciate the life-giving value of public infrastructure.”

Much of Metro’s ridership are choice riders. These folks are not.

Vass also pointed out that riders do not use Route 7 solely for commuting, as they do many lines, but for errands and leisure activities. The 7 arrives frequently and stops often, making it ideal for those who have no other form of transportation to move through the neighborhoods of Rainier Beach relatively efficiently.

The RapidRide program will remove the 7 loops that run along Seward Park and Prentice St, meaning passengers in these areas may have to walk an extra 10-30 blocks to catch a ride. Although the bulk of the route will follow the original stops for a time, it is also likely that the city will remove some stops as RapidRide becomes geared more toward downtown transport. This prioritization of accessibility to the city center over neighborhood connection reflects a larger issue within South Seattle.

As Seattle continues to gentrify, fewer affordable and diverse neighborhoods remain. Rainier Beach is one of the last areas of the city without prohibitively high costs of living. This is partially due to its lack of proximity to downtown. As Rainier Beach becomes easier to access, property prices will escalate here as they have in other areas.

“If gentrification is the changing of a community without that community’s consent,” says Vass, “I can think of no better example than Columbia City. The introduction of expensive high-rise apartments, condos, new homes, in addition to high-end restaurants and grocery stores, is glaringly obvious as a calculated slap in the face to the community…. Gentrification is usually easy to spot, but it’s rarely this shameless.”

However, Vass does not connect gentrification with the conversion to RapidRide. Rather, he sees the bus change as a mild upgrade for most of the ridership. The route will be identical in arrival frequency, slightly faster, and safer with the presence of fare enforcement.

This, to Vass, is not indicative of gentrification. “Converting the busiest non-Rapid route to Rapid service is exactly the opposite,” he claims.

Mano does not share this sentiment.

“I’ve seen more and more white people getting off the Columbia light rail station over the years,” he shares. “Public transportation ‘improvements’ have often allowed for greater gentrification to take root… that might be the case with the RapidRide through the South End.”
For more information on the RapidRide project, visit: http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/projects-and-programs/programs/transit-program/rapid-ride

Featured image by Will Sweger

16 thoughts on “Rainier City RapidRide: Gentrification, Efficiency, and Seattle’s Changing Landscape”

  1. I will move. I am sorry and tired of being blamed for all the problems of Southeast Seattle because I am white. I have lived and worked here 50 years. My family has lived here for over 100 years. But I will be happy to leave if my white skin offends you. I have gone out of my way to assure all races are treated equal. No just Black, but also Asian as well as sexual minorities. I am sure my white skin has caused the property values to fall. In my 50 years I have always been accepted until the last few years. Why are you trying to drive a wedge between the races that have lived her in harmony for so many years.

    1. This article was advocating for all residents and riders, including the Caucasian ones, whom are dependent on the route 7 in specific (and public transportation in general) for basic survival needs. Yet another case of the city actively trying to social engineer this major metropolitan area into the world largest gated community.

      There is NO WAY that Metro and their planners are unaware of what they are doing, its cold blooded. Just like when they installed the Seatac light-rail system….. It was obvious from the jump that its intended purpose was to move passengers from the airport to downtown and specifically chosen gentrification zones in between (hence the dearth of stops between Seatac and SoDo) as quick as possible with as little benefit to the actual South End population as they could get away with. The city government is actively working against the best interests of this municipality and when the bubble burst, do you think they will be ready to shoulder the blame?

    2. Derf, you’ve made this post about yourself. Yes, your whiteness makes you racist, but that doesn’t mean you, as a person, hold the intentions of being one. Second, if you’ve lived in this neighborhood for 50 years, than obviously this post isn’t about you, or other white folks who have resided in the Southend for a long time. Gentrification in Columbia City has begun about 4 years ago, rapidly. If you want to be an ally as a white person, please use your voice, and privilege by calling the city council, and/or make phone calls to the development signs around the neighborhood. It’s about what you’re doing that makes you complicit to racism, is how you’re doing it. Victimizing yourself against the experiences of POC, and POOR people is further encouraging the systemic neglect of marginalization which in America, primarily affects Blacks, POC who are poor, Poor white people, and Disabled people. Please, the world is not about you, yet it is with you, and you’re involved whether you are upset with that or not. I say this with love, compassion and respect. BTW, I am a queer, person of color who is a full-time student, and poor as fuck living in Columbia City.

      1. I agree with a lot of your post, but this is waaaaayyy too far imo “Yes, your whiteness makes you racist” thats ridiculous & insulting. If anything, we need what old-school Italians are left of when the RV used to be called “Garlic Gulch” to step up to the plate and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us to demand citizen control of the mechanisms that will allow for us to fight back against the predatory gentrification that is effecting EVERYONE of us who cant afford to just “ride out” this economic violence.

  2. I live in the valley and ride the 7, and it’s really freaking slow and stops too often. I can’t believe the argument being offered here. We deserve good transit, too. “Let’s keep our transit crappy to scare away rich people” is a terrible argument. Insofar as rich white people are going to look to move to this area, it’s because the shortage is pricing them out of other neighborhoods. IF you don’t want that, you need to fight for policies that exacerbate the shortage. If we don’t, they’ll come eventually anyway.

    The 7’s appalling slowness steals our time. Our time is valuable, too. Metro is trying to give us some of it back. FFS.

    1. Its slow BECAUSE it makes all those stops. You know, the ones that the area residents NEED and RELY on to get where we need to go.

  3. From the description I read, Rapid Ride will not be very much different than the bus 7, which I often use for errands. But the Rapid Ride will help if it becomes more reliable.

    1. The article details ways in which Joe Metro is already looking to scale back the service currently offered by the 7 route before the “rapid ride’ even takes effect. Its in the article.

    2. Except if you live in the loop area of Prentice Street (57th – Waters – 62nd Ave -Prentice – 64th) aka as Upper Rainier Beach.

      I ride both 7 routes several times a week by choice. Eliminating the Prentice St loop would require neighbors who use the bus to run errands or shopping to either walk up the hill or find alternate transportation.

      Stay on the Prentice St route until it completes its loop before you comment that it will not be “much” different. That should be a determination solely from the folks impacted by the disruption in service

  4. I will say that the decline in stops along with the frequent presence of fare enforcement will form a margin in regards to the attendees of this new route. Understand that majority of 7 is used by homeless, poor, below working class people. They use the 7 to sleep(cause it rides all night), they use the 7 for free access as most bus drivers don’t regulate, and they can use the transfers they’ve collected as the rapid ride will most likely be orca cards predominantly. I see what they’re trying to do, however they are lacking thorough data to feed the needs of neighborhoods so as equitable access is met versus equal access.

    1. I’m not sure I agree that it is likely that stops are likely to be removed once they have been initiated into a RapidRide service. Has anyone seen evidence of that in other RapidRide routes after they have been started? The 7 route was already realigned to fewer stops years ago, and some infrastructure investments have long been completed, such as the sidewalk widening and curb bulb installation at the southbound stop at Holden. If anything, RapidRide will tend to more firmly entrench the route as it is I think.

      There definitely needs to be a viable and timely replacement for the Seward Park and Prentice loops made available (bonus points for re-linking Cornell) to coincide with the launch of RapidRide on Rainier.

  5. “The neighborhood really went to hell after RapidRide came …”

    … could be a commonly held sentiment (or not) in the future. I don’t think there is really a choice in whether the 7 converts. That die seems already thrown.

    I get that more frequent bus service can potentially make a neighborhood more popular as a choice for future residents, but does that change alone *really* mean the single-handed displacement of this neighborhood’s traditional residents?

    For example, the A line was the first of these bus rapid transit lines. That meant the demise of perhaps a prior longest bus route in the Metro system of an earlier time. But the world did not end (so far as I know) in the meantime and my experience has been that the neighborhoods served by the A Line remain as diverse as ever.

    To me, the complaint seems reminiscent of a desire to keep “those people” out just as much as the gates of the claimed future gated community.

    Change will inevitably bring concern for what will happen as a result. But I’m not sure this change merits the sort of angst I hear in the article.

    What is true, apparently, is that Henderson in Rainier Beach will certainly get a whole lot busier with bus traffic than it is now. Future up-zones along Henderson pretty much guarantee that the days of single family homes in that narrow area are likely to be numbered and more people will undoubtedly be moving to that corridor. Gated enclaves? Not so much so far, from what I can tell.

    What is certainly needed is an equitable replacement for the transit service being withdrawn from the Seward and Prentice loops. That’s where folks already here ought to have a voice on how to make a viable–and timely–replacement.

  6. I am transit dependent. I look forward to a Rapid Ride because the 7 is often full of bad behavior which the drivers often don’t police because of fear or not wanting the hassle. I understand that–avoiding driver assualt is paramount, but I’m tired of getting sexually harassed on the bus, dealing with people drunk or dealing drugs on the bus or all kinds of other toxic behaviors that occur less frequently on Rapid Rides partly due to Fare Enforcement officers. As someone who needs the 7 to get around I don’t feel riders should be subjected to having to deal with the current situation on that bus.

  7. Saying that the conversion of the 7 (Metro’s most violent route not its flagship) to a Raid Ride route will lead to massive gentrification turning Rainier beach into another SLU is a bit of a stretch. Many home buyers will be scared off by the crime rate data for that area where shootings are common. And I would bet many of the riders are service industry workers taking it to jobs downtown at hotels and restaurants. They’ll appreciate a bus that can be relied upon to get them to work on time so they don’t face trouble at work for showing up late all the time cause the 7 is so slow.