Point Defiance Park in Tacoma is the city’s largest municipal park and draws upwards of three million visitors per year. Along with the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, Defiance Park has been continuously breaking attendance records over the past several years and visitors are finding it more difficult to get to, from, and move around within this Tacoma gem.

The issue has been framed by the local news as a “parking problem,” despite the lack of public transit and non-motorized options to get to and from the park. Located in far north Tacoma, Point Defiance Park is situated on land that juts out into Puget Sound. Access to the park is limited to about three entrance roads that enter the park from the south (of those only one, North Pearl Street, is a major park entrance).



Transit and non-motorized options are sparse: Pierce Transit cut and reduced all weekend and holiday hours after the narrow rejection of Proposition 1 in 2012. Though Routes 10 and 11 still serve Point Defiance Park, Route 10 from downtown ends service at 6.30pm on the weekdays and 5.30pm on weekends, with service to any particular stop only once every hour. Bicycle paths and routes are few and stop short of the park entrance, such as North Vassault Street that ends at North 51st Street. The only other bicycle route, the Ruston Way waterfront trail also currently stops well south of the park entrance.

On September 29th, the first of three public meetings on park mobility improvements drew about 40 attendees. The meeting on park mobility was held, coincidentally, at the Point Defiance Pagoda–once a popular stop on the Puget Sound Electric Railway.

This first meeting did not address access to and from the park, but instead focused on improvements to automobile, bicycle, and pedestrian mobility within the park. Wayfinding signs, additional trails, and improved bicycle, trail, and roadway designs were presented and attendees could vote on what they preferred.

Tom Dargan, Metro Parks Project Manager, and the project team shared some of the proposed improvements from the Point Defiance Master Plan Update including a proposal for 550 parking stalls in the Waterfront/Vashon Ferry area and a parking structure for 465 more parking spaces located on the existing Point Defiance Zoo surface lot.

More parking may help solve the near-term parking issues, but it does not fully address improving access to the park. Admittedly, this was not the focus of this initial meeting, but Tom Dargan also noted that, “…visitor parking issues are not new at Point Defiance. But the park is putting in new attractions, such as the aquarium, and we need to plan for an increase in visitors over the next 5 to 10 years. Some of the options are based on parking and some are promoting ways to get there that are not car dependent.”

Specifically, he said there are questions about how to fund the vertical parking structure. But the intent is to have a vertical structure so as not to take away park land or trees. “It is a long-term solution that needs input from the public before we proceed,” he said.

Non car-dependent improvements that are underway include an extension of the Ruston waterfront trail over the Vashon Island Ferry loading lanes and into the park. Tom Dargan noted that the trail extension and footbridge is anticipated to be complete by the fall of 2017. Pierce Transit may expand service to the park if the proposals in its recently released 2016 route analysis are approved.

Tom Dargan also noted that park staff will have to “show Pierce Transit that the ridership figures are there” to get the expanded service. “We learned at the September 30th meeting that the public really wants Pierce Transit back at Point Defiance.”

The next public meeting, focusing on access to the park and automobile parking, will be held at 6pm on December 1, 2016 at the Point Defiance Park Pagoda.

Kirk Rappe lives in the Stadium District Neighborhood of Tacoma and is an urban planner in Pierce County. He volunteers for the Washington Chapter American Planning Association and has written about urban sustainability, energy, and climate change issues.


  1. As a transit destination Port Defiance reminds me a bit of the Presidio in San Francisco. And PT #10 is a bit like Muni’s #28. The area it serves is a lot less dense and walkable, which means everything when it comes to building support for more service.

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