Parking and traffic at Point Defiance Park can be a mess.
On a beautiful summer day or during Zoolights, there might be no spots available. Car traffic, which circles Five Mile Drive as people head to beaches and view points on sunny days, sometimes comes uncomfortably close to bicyclists and runners.
Metro Parks Tacoma officials know this. They want the public’s help figuring out how to make it better. They also want suggestions on how they should improve Owen Beach at the park. Public workshops on each of those topics will be held in the next few weeks.
The first workshop is Thursday, when park users can share thoughts on how to improve parking and traffic circulation around Point Defiance. Some options to reduce car traffic: A multi-level parking structure in the zoo parking lot, a shuttle, a bus stop right outside the park, and paid or timed parking. Everything is on the table, according to project manager Tom Dargan.
“We’re kind of looking 20 to 50 years down the road,” Dargan said. He’s serious: Metro Parks is even considering what it will do in the event of driverless cars. “What do people and the neighbors and Tacomans want Point Defiance Park to be?”
The park has about 1,500 parking spaces, according to the agency. But attendance is growing, and Metro Parks is projecting it will need 1,000 more.
Dargan said the agency wants to reduce car congestion without hurting part of what makes the 760-acre park so beloved: They don’t want to have to clear a ton of trees or cut across green space to build parking or multi-use paths.
Instead, there might be a barrier built on Five Mile Drive so that bicyclists, runners and walkers have a buffer from vehicles. If a garage or parking structure were built, they would try to use space in existing parking lots.
At a September workshop on pedestrian and bike improvements at the park, most people favored safety improvements that won’t alter the park’s beauty, Dargan said. The workshop weighed options for a path to link Five Mile Drive to Ruston Way and to North Pearl Street.
“The majority of people — 60 to 80 percent — think that we’ve got to preserve the park first,” he said. “Safety is important, but if we have a barricade between the road and the new pathway, that’s good so that we don’t clear trees.”
At a Dec. 7 public workshop, three designs for improvements to Owen Beach will be unveiled, with the public encouraged to share opinions. New restrooms, a playground and a second picnic shelter are among upgrades being considered, Metro Parks staff said. Other possibilities include a kayak launch and upgrades to parking, signage and the existing picnic shelter.
The Owen Beach project is expected to break ground in September 2018, with completion slated for the following May.
If you go:
6 p.m., Dec. 1 at the Point Defiance Pagoda: Parking and traffic circulation public workshop.
6 p.m., Dec. 7 at the Point Defiance Pagoda: Owen Beach improvements public workshop.