The updated master plan for Portland's iconic Washington Park has been accepted by City Council on Thursday, March 15, 2018.
The Future of Washington Park
It is time to update the master plan for Washington Park. The update process is an opportunity to imagine how Washington Park might be in the future. Now is our opportunity to think about services and experiences the park offers, how people get around the park, and what qualities could attract new visitors.
The Master Plan Charts the Future for the Park
For nearly 150 years, Washington Park has been a treasured destination for Portlanders and visitors from around the world. The existing master plan was written in 1981 (for more information visit Washington Park through our Find a Park feature.) Some of the suggested improvements happened, but others did not. Many issues identified thirty years ago still exist.
Washington Park Master Plan
City Council approves vision for a more bike and pedestrian-friendly, accessible destination with an improved park experience.
- The newly updated Washington Park Master Plan will help guide the vision of the park over the coming decades
- Robust public engagement has resulted in a more bike and pedestrian-friendly vision for Washington Park
- The phased implementation of the Master Plan Update will strategically address key concerns including maintenance, transportation access to and within the park, and improve the park’s ecological health
Today, the Portland City Council unanimously approved an updated master plan that will strategically guide the future development of Portland Parks & Recreation’s Washington Park over the next decades. The plan addresses transportation and parking issues, maintenance and access, identifies opportunities for a new park entrance on West Burnside, and for plazas and gardens. The updated Washington Park Master Plan is the result of extensive public engagement which has resulted in a new and exciting vision for the iconic park. The plan aims to make Washington Park more bike and pedestrian-friendly, and preserves and improves the park’s ecological health.
“This new master plan will guide Washington Park towards an enhanced visitor experience for everyone, with less dependence on cars,” notes Portland Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz. “The park’s natural areas will be improved and preserved, maintenance will be a key initiative, and Washington Park will become more transit-friendly and pedestrian-friendly.”
The master plan also aims to protect, preserve, and enhance the park’s natural areas, plants, animals, and birds, recognizing Washington Park is part of an important regional wildlife corridor.
“With three million visitors each year, Washington Park is Portland’s most recognizable and iconic park,” says Portland Parks & Recreation Director Mike Abbaté. “The new master plan will ensure its world-class status for Portlanders and visitors alike. That begins with an improved visitor experience. Thanks to all of our partners, volunteers, Champions Committee, and all Portlanders, for their commitment to helping us shape Washington Park’s vision.”
An important first step in the implementation of this new plan will be the Transportation Management Study. This work will mirror the extensive public engagement undertaken for the master plan, and will focus on understanding transportation and parking opportunities and challenges in the park. Throughout this process, TriMet will continue to provide regular bus service to Washington Park, and Explore Washington Park continues to provide a free visitor shuttle within the park - with service from April-October. The number of people taking mass transit to Washington Park is up 66% since the free shuttle and paid parking endeavors began in 2014 - even as the park’s overall attendance has increased. Ridership on the free shuttle has increased 40% since service began, and has resulted in a significant decrease -estimated at more than 600 tons - of greenhouse gas emissions from cars visiting Washington Park, since 2014. Shuttle riders helped save enough driving miles to total five trips from the earth to the moon.
Master plan elements include:
- Managing and enhancing current park assets
- Improving access to and around the park
- Protecting and preserving Washington Park’s natural areas and wildlife
- Improved safety for park visitors
- A new entrance off W. Burnside for people on foot and bike
- Maintaining the same amount of parking spaces while reducing congestion
- A garden plaza between the Portland Japanese Garden and International Rose Test Garden
- A garden plaza when you get off the MAX so you enter a park, not a parking lot.
- Offering clear park and wayfinding information at multiple park sites
- Enhancing the visitor experience for pedestrians and people on bikes, while ensuring the park is less car-dependent through a variety of improvements
The process for developing the new master plan was based on a robust engagement strategy that took place over a period of 18 months and included: regular and ongoing consultation with key stakeholders including the Explore Washington Park Board and adjacent neighborhood associations and neighbors; public events; surveying park users; an online survey; culturally-specific focus groups conducted in Vietnamese and Russian. The engagement was supported by the Champions Committee – a 16-member committee appointed by Parks Commissioner Fritz to oversee and advise on the plan’s development – creating goals and a vision for the project to address the key issues and opportunities that the park will face over the next decades.
Portland Parks & Recreation will be working with the Commissioner-in-Charge of Parks, Metro, and the community, to seek funding for implementing the projects outlined in the master plan update.
The Washington Park Master Plan Update is complete! With a robust public engagement over 18 months—in four languages and involving more than 2500 people—the Washington Park Master Plan Update focuses on three major areas of improvement for the long-term sustainability of the 481-acre park: create identity, improve access, and enhance the visitor experience.
Results are in from our November 2017 Public Survey on the Washington Park Master Plan Update draft.
We asked you to “make your mark on Washington Park” at our open house forums this past April. Now, PP&R wants to ensure that we have met the community’s visions and goals to keep Washington Park a world-class destination. The draft master plan (below) will guide the redevelopment of Washington Park - 450 acres of beautiful gardens, internationally-lauded attractions, and natural areas - is ready for Portlanders’ review and final input.
Early in 2017, all ideas will used to create several options for the future of the park. The city will share the options with the community and ask for feedback. Community feedback will help create the final master plan in the fall of 2017.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Washington Park?
Washington Park is 481 acres of developed park land, natural area, trails, paved paths, memorials (the Holocaust Memorial and Vietnam Veterans of Oregon Memorial), gardens, sports fields, tennis courts, performance space, wedding venues, soccer field, archery range, fountains, restrooms, historical sites, picnic sites, Hoyt Arboretum, and the International Rose Test Garden. Portland Parks & Recreation manages all these areas and sites and the park welcomes more than three million visitors each year.
Washington Park is also home to the Oregon Zoo, World Forestry Center, Portland Children’s Museum, and the Portland Japanese Garden—world-class institutions integrated into the park.
Explore Washington Park (EWP) is a non-profit that was formed as a Transportation Management Association to manage transportation in the park—striving to improve the visitor experience.
What is the Washington Park Master Plan Update and why is it needed?
The Washington Park Master Plan Update is a comprehensive vision that will guide the use and development of Portland’s iconic Washington Park over the next 20 years. The original master plan was adopted by City Council in 1981. Washington Park is and should remain a destination for people from around the city, the region, and the world—long into the future. The master plan update outlines a series of projects and opportunities that will address current and anticipated challenges facing the park. In the 37 years since the first master plan was created, a lot has changed; this master plan update strategically guides the future of the park.
Over 18 months and in 4 languages, the Washington Park Master Plan Update engaged thousands of community members, the cultural institutions (Oregon Zoo, Portland Japanese Garden, World Forestry Center, Portland Children’s Museum), Explore Washington Park and a Champion Committee representing neighbors, architects, businesses, and local and regional government.
The resulting plan focuses on three major areas of improvement for the long-term sustainability of the park: create identity, improve access, and enhance visitor experience.
When will the updated Washington Park Master Plan go into effect?
The Washington Park Master Plan Update will be presented to Portland City Council on Thursday, March 15, 2018, at 2:00pm for acceptance. Once accepted by City Council, the master plan update will become Portland Park & Recreation’s guiding document for Washington Park. PP&R will continue to work with our partners to seek implementation funding for the projects shown in the plan.
Will every project in the Washington Park Master Plan Update start right away?
The master plan update calls for a careful sequence of improvements so that changes are made gradually and relocation or removal of existing park uses are planned for in advance— addressing immediate and current needs are priorities.
The master plan update identifies three phases for implementing identified projects and improvements over the next 20 years. The first project to be undertaken immediately after the plan is accepted is to update the Transportation Management Plan (TMP). The non-profit Explore Washington Park and Portland Parks & Recreation will complete an update to the TMP between 2018-2021. Large scale traffic and transportation projects identified in the master plan update will move forward after they are studied for feasibility in the TMP.
How does the Transportation Management Plan fit in the Master Plan?
Improved connectivity to and through the park is a major focus of the master plan update. The Access Section of the plan identifies projects which will provide new transportation infrastructure and improvements in the park. Right now, the projects identified in the plan are conceptual. Completing the now needed feasibility studies will provide a clearer understanding of the costs and benefits of each project. These studies will examine factors like parking, traffic, and growth analysis. Using the master plan update as a framework, the studies will strategize how best to implement the concepts or to adjust them in scale, placement, or phasing. Such changes would be based on factors including project feasibility, changes in technology, and travel/visitor trends and behaviors.
The TMP will include an involvement process with Washington Park attractions/cultural institutions and outside stakeholders (adjacent neighborhood associations, the greater Portland community, and the Champions Committee).
How does the Washington Park Master Plan address the parking situation in the park?
Two challenges identified early in the planning process included parking and travelling to and through the park. The plan’s goals are to improve the ability to easily drive to the park and, once in the park, provide alternatives to automobiles to move visitors through the park. The plan identified internal transportation options like additional shuttles, a people mover, bike rentals, and additional and improved pedestrian and bicycle trails. The master plan update envisions a robust transportation system that prioritizes pedestrians, bicyclists, and shuttles while maintaining 1,400 on-site paid parking spaces for visitors.
Explore Washington Park is the transportation management association that manages transportation systems and programs inside the park. The EWP Board is made up of Directors from all the attractions within the park, the PP&R Director, and representatives from TriMet, the surrounding neighborhoods and at-large members. EWP will be spearheading the Transportation Management Plan update for the park.
Why aren’t we building a parking garage?
Building a parking garage behind the Washington Park TriMet station was explored. The structure and associated site work was estimated to cost approximately $50 million. The garage would require reconfiguration of the existing surface lots to allow proper access into the new garage facility, drop off and bus loading, and required stormwater facilities. The consultants determined that the maximum parking spaces the garage could hold was 900 stalls – the same amount existing today. Therefore, the master plan calls for revising Lots A, B, and C near the Oregon Zoo to make them more functional, and to create better drop off and bus loading areas.
Off-site parking garage facilities are still included in the plan as well – one option may be near W Burnside and NW 24th Place, and the other near Sylvan business park west of the Oregon Zoo. The Transportation Management Plan may study these options further.
How does the Washington Park Master Plan improve access for pedestrians and bicyclists?
Trails within Washington Park are already a major attraction for visitors. With a network of 15 miles of trails, there are unique opportunities to connect with nature, exercise, explore, and relax. During PP&R’s community engagement process to develop the plan, Portlanders expressed the need for additional trails, better connections to features inside the park, and improved accessibility. The master plan update outlines the following trail improvements:
- Construct a regional trail that connects the Washington Park south entry (nearest the Oregon Zoo, Portland Children’s Museum, World Forestry Center) to the garden area within the railroad right-of-way. The trail would be 12-14 feet wide, paved and accessible at a 4% grade.
- Improve trails in Stearns Canyon to better connect pedestrians and bicyclists from W Burnside into the park.
- Construct additional accessible trail connectors in Hoyt Arboretum.
- Build trails at both ends of the park to make connections to the regional trails and bicycling routes outside the park.
- Creating a recreational, “Sunday Parkway” experience, by periodically closing SW Kingston Drive through the park.
Are the park’s natural areas being enhanced and preserved?
Yes. Most of Washington Park includes natural area and in 2009, our natural areas inventory identified much of the park as severely degraded. The master plan update includes plans for improving trails and enhancing the ecological health of the forest. It calls for a funding strategy to remove harmful invasive species, including ivy, from the park’s natural areas. The regional trail in the master plan update is proposed to be built within the current railroad right-of-way to minimize impacts to natural areas. The plan proposes to restore scenic view corridors, allowing visitors an opportunity to see the beautiful vistas of downtown and Mt Hood.
How was the community engaged in developing the Washington Park Master Plan Update?
Portland Parks & Recreation staff and consultants conducted extensive citywide outreach over a period of 18 months to gather valuable input from the community. The recommended enhancements and projects reflect ideas from the public, neighbors, focus groups, the Champions Committee (representatives from the community, neighborhood associations, Rosarians, Metro, and members of communities of color), and PP&R staff. The updated Washington Park Master Plan strives to create welcoming spaces and activities for all visitors, of all abilities.
More than 2500 people gave input to the Master Plan via multiple methods of community engagement, including:
- Three online surveys – the first during the technical investigation phase, the second surveyed concept design alternatives, and the third solicited input for the Plan’s final concept. More than 2500 people responded to these surveys.
- The Bureau held targeted focus groups in east Portland to engage traditionally under-represented local communities. These focus groups were held in Spanish, Russian, and Vietnamese.
- Party in the Park – the Bureau held a community open house at the World Forestry Center where wewelcomed around 100 people who gave input to various proposals being considered in the Master Plan.
- PP&R tabled at three local farmer’s markets.
- Regular and ongoing conversations with the Explore Washington Park Board.
- Regular and ongoing conversations with the Oregon Zoo, Portland Children’s Museum, Friends of Hoyt Arboretum, World Forestry Center, and Portland Japanese Garden.
PP&R and its consultant team also worked with a Champions Committee and a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC); these groups provided local perspectives and professional expertise that informed the designs and guided the Master Planning process. The Champions Committee consisted of representatives from the community, neighborhood associations, Rosarians, Metro, and members of communities of color. The Committee met five separate times.
What were some of the main issues raised as part of the process?
We heard clearly that there are concerns about parking, traffic, growth, food service, new uses being proposed and existing ones being reconsidered or relocated. PP&R staff, the consultant team, and the Champions Committee were required to consider a wide range of ideas and priorities. There was widespread support for many of the recommendations in the master plan update, including the focus on improving access to the park, upgrading the roadways and connections within the park, enhancing the natural areas, and creating new experiences like the forest canopy walk, people mover, and trail system. However, not everyone was able to get everything they wanted in this plan. Trade-offs and balancing were necessary.
How will the plan’s projects be funded?
PP&R will be working with our Commissioner-in-Charge of Parks, Metro, and the community to seek implementation funding for implementing the projects outlined in the master plan update. Washington Park’s paid parking revenue may be used to fund transportation and access improvements for parking, shuttle, roads and trails.