The Mercer Island City Council and citizens expressed concerns over the direction that the Aubrey Davis Park draft master plan is heading during a study session on Jan. 15.
The city hopes to adopt the plan by December 2019 and have it serve as a document that reflects community consensus for the future of the park while outlining the major needs for capital reinvestment. There will be an open house to discuss the draft on Feb. 7.
UPDATE: Due to ongoing icy road conditions, the city postponing the in-person Open House slated for Feb. 7 to Thursday, Feb. 28 from 6-8 p.m. at the Community and Event Center. In the meantime, an online open house will be taking place at https://letstalk.mercergov.org/AubreyDavis from Thursday, Feb. 7 to March 8.
Aubrey Davis Park, formerly known as the park on the lid, traverses the north end of Mercer Island. The 90-acre corridor of landscaped green spaces and pathways was developed for recreation and transportation during the expansion of Interstate 90 in the 1980s and ‘90s, and parts of it are located on top of the highway. The city named it after Davis — a former mayor and driving force behind the creation of the facility — in 2013.
“Aubrey Davis Park is a bridge-to-bridge recreational and transportation facility that serves Bellevue, the Eastside and Seattle as well as Mercer Island with a multipurpose trail system, athletic fields, a boat launch and passive use park areas,” according to a 2016 memo from the city. “It is a regional park needing substantial planning services.”
Mercer Island started the Aubrey Davis Park master planning process last year, hoping to have it work with and around Sound Transit’s light rail and King County’s sewer upgrade projects, which will also impact the north end of the Island. It will also integrate with plans for Town Center, especially the Tully’s site and sculpture gallery on Sunset Highway.
The city will have to figure out the balance between Islanders who use the park as a destination for walking their dogs, cycling or watching their kids play sports, and regional users for whom it is mainly a travel corridor.
The draft vision states that “Aubrey Davis Park should be a place that feels welcoming and accessible, retaining its open and natural character while creating space for a variety of activities and events – a place for everyone.” The goal is to blend the regional context of the park with local needs, making it inclusive for all ages and abilities.
Mayor Debbie Bertlin said she saw the draft as too “singular.”
“[Aubrey Davis Park] is many things to different people,” she said. “The extent to which it’s monolithic in the vision statement… misses a little bit of what is special about it.”
Councilmember Bruce Bassett noted that the draft vision seems to omit the importance of the park to commuters, both Islanders and regional users.
A big sticking point with the local community was the recommendation that the trail be expanded to 14 feet to accommodate and reduce conflicts between all user groups — “families with small kids all the way through the fast and furious commuter bikers, and then all the different users with different skills and abilities in between.” A 12-foot trail with 2-foot shoulders is recommended by WSDOT.
At the council meeting, Island resident Meg Lippert demonstrated how wide a 14-foot trail, plus shoulders, would be with a piece of caution tape.
“It was hard for me to imagine this basically road going through the park,” she said. “The best way to preserve safety is with a narrower path.”
Newly selected Councilmember Lisa Anderl said she would question the extent to which a wider trail promotes higher speeds, and said she personally favors the “slowing factor that narrower trail brings to bear.” Another idea was to have two trails: one for pedestrians and one for bicyclists.
Island resident Daniel Thompson said he attended the master plan open houses last fall, and that the input from Island residents wasn’t reflected in the draft.
“What I heard from the citizens is that they are very afraid that the park they love as is will be changed — it’s going to be regionalized, its going to be developed,” Thompson said.
The master plan also talks about arts and culture, and integrating and interacting with public art in a park setting in a way that makes sense but isn’t too overpowering.
The deteriorating infrastructure is the biggest issue in the park, and the impetus for the master plan.
The facilities are now 25 years old, creating problems: asphalt pathways are cracking, soils are depleted and portions of the trail are being used in ways that were not fully anticipated in the original design. Trail use has increased with population growth, and areas around the Park and Ride and the sports fields become congested when various user groups vie for the same space. The plan is anticipating changes in commuting patterns, such as increased e-bike use.
During the public outreach, trails and landscape were identified as priorities. It was emphasized that the current plan is just a draft that identifies goals and opportunity areas, and is open for changes.
For those unable to attend the upcoming open house in person, the city will be holding one online at www.letstalk.mercergov.org/aubreydavis.