Tuesday, July 25, 2017 This Week's Paper

Our Views: Tread lightly on park road closure

It seems that the pilot program to close the outer reaches of Point Defiance Park’s Five-Mile Drive to cars and trucks during morning hours has strong support.

MetroParks’ online survey is trending about three to one in favor of barring motorized vehicles from the roadway until 11 a.m. on weekdays. The road has been closed on Saturdays and Sundays during that time for years now. The survey will be collecting comments and votes through the winter, but the trend isn’t likely to change dramatically enough to swing the results. The parks board will then decide about the issue next spring.

Maybe the weekday closure of the roadway is the best solution. It is manageable by park staff. It has strong support with walkers, joggers and cyclists who would like to loop around the scenic roadway without fear of being hit by speeding cars zipping around blind corners.

But the closure of a public roadway out of fear of potential pedestrian-versus-car accidents doesn’t hold up. It is a solution in search of a problem. There has not been a rash of accidents or even near-accidents on the roadway. In fact, the opposite is apparently true.

Of the 80 calls for service in Point Defiance during the last two years, Tacoma Fire Department officials found only one accident of note. Even that was a single-car crash involving a group of drunken teens that wrecked a car during an afternoon drive in April. It left one passenger dead and the driver in handcuffs, but no pedestrians were involved.

So, statistically speaking, closing the roadway to avoid pedestrian accidents is a non-starter. Five Mile Drive is already one of the safest roadways for pedestrians in the city. Banning cars from the would avoid the potential for pedestrian accidents, but doing that would be like preventing drowning deaths by banning swimming.

The expanded closure plan for vehicles also cuts off the use of a section of the park to people who perhaps can’t get there any other way – the elderly and the disabled. While many people can venture on foot or peddle to the outer reaches of the park’s roadway to see Puget Sound in the early morning hours or to set up picnic activities before outdoor parties start, some people don’t have that luxury. Motorized vehicles are their lifeline to nature and the outside world.

The closure means they will never see the morning colors of Puget Sound from the Dalco Passage Viewpoint, for example, because walkers and cyclists are more organized with their survey efforts.

Sure, everyone would like to have a park just for themselves. Just ask the off-leash dog park users. But Point Defiance is something special. Its 700 acres include some of the last old growth forests in Western Washington, and offer wonderful views of Puget Sound.

It is bad policy to restrict access for one group of users to benefit another group, all based on some irrational fear of accidents that reports show don’t really happen.

Even with the road closure limited to the outer reach of the Five-Mile Drive loop, and therefore, not affecting cars driving to Fort Nisqually or the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, the closure will deter people from enjoying the park’s other offerings without any reason other than survey results and beliefs that run counter to reality.

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The above opinion represents the view of Tacoma Weekly's editorial board