Plan aims to make Point Defiance Park more friendly to pedestrians

The plan is to make Point Defiance Park more friendly to pedestrians.

Officials want to reduce the number of vehicles in the heart of the 760-acre park and put in more sidewalks so pedestrians don’t have to share the road.

Those are among ideas that will be shared Thursday at a public forum to continue shaping the Tacoma park’s draft master plan.

A major goal is to create a safe environment for those who want to walk or bicycle in the park.

“Cars are the necessary evil, we know that’s a reality,” said Doug Fraser, Metro Parks Tacoma’s chief planning manager. “But it’s a park. We want people to come and get out of their cars and enjoy the park.”

Officials are concerned about the Pearl Street entrance, which poses a danger to those trying to cross the street and creates extensive backups on popular days.

About 75 percent of drivers enter Point Defiance from that entrance, and on weekend days in summer, a study estimates 7,500 vehicles pass through.

One solution is to install a roundabout, which would allow a smoother flow of traffic. Another is to put up better crosswalks and sidewalks at the entrance to so visitors can safely walk through the most heavily traveled areas of the park.

Pedestrians now must share the roadway with cars and often walk with the flow of traffic. Fraser said the hope is to create pathways that will permit people to walk or ride bikes to all major points of the park.

To further limit traffic, officials recommend expanding the one-way road on the southern side to a two-way road.

It connects the Pearl Street entrance, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, the Mildred Street entrance and Fort Nisqually.

“What we really want to do is look at the idea of keeping the cars to the edge of the park as much as possible and relieve the number going into the middle of the park,” Fraser said.

Visitors still could drive through all areas of Point Defiance.

Parking is another issue that will be tackled in this segment of the draft master plan.

In nice weather and during events such as Zoolights, parking in the park can become next to impossible. The park has 1,890 parking spaces, and planners want to increase that 15 percent by adding 283 spots.

“The main thrust is we do not want to create more parking lots and pave over more of the park,” Fraser said.

Proposals include adding new boat trailer parking near the triangle area, restriping lots at Owen Beach and Fort Nisqually to maximize space and building a second tier to accommodate zoo visitors.

Thursday’s public meeting will be the third on the master plan. The last meeting will be April 23. Then the plan will be forwarded to the park board for approval.