Sunshine hits the golden maple leaves and bright green grass in front of a picturesque view of Lake Washington and Seattle. It’s a beautiful fall day in a park that now stands where the community could have been literally divided by Interstate 90.
Aubrey Davis Park (ADP), parts of which sit on a lid over the freeway, is the result of an effort to mitigate transit impacts to Mercer Island residents and keep the town together. Today the city is working to build a plan to preserve that goal and carry the park’s beauty into the future.
The draft master plan for ADP was presented to Mercer Island City Council at an Oct. 15 study session. While the plan has a few new projects and some amenities updates, it largely focuses on maintaining and preserving the park, which is primarily owned by the Washington State Department Of Transportation (WSDOT) but maintained by the city.
Some main areas of focus for the ADP master plan include vegetation restoration, preservation, safety, the arts, the environment and the trails. The Mountains to Sound Trail, which carries bicycle traffic between Seattle, Mercer Island, and the Eastside, runs right through the park.
The full scale plan, as proposed without changes, could cost about $63 million dollars. But the goal is to use the community driven plan to renegotiate the maintenance agreement and have WSDOT pay for it.
“People’s first reaction when they hear that is to fall out of your chair and go, ‘Wow that’s a crazy amount of money,’ and it is,” said Ryan Daly, interim parks and recreation director. “But the largest portion of that is for the dying vegetation throughout the park, which is, again, owned by WSDOT. We’re looking to renegotiate the maintenance agreement to have them pay for it.”
“It’s a misconception that Mercer Island taxpayers would be paying for that. It’s not true,” he added.
During the public comment period of the council meeting that took place immediately after the presentation, several citizens expressed concerns over the “large price tag” and that “the city has no money.” Some said they were quite surprised to see such a big and expensive plan when the main citizen goal was to change as little as possible.
But Daly, and capital projects and planning manager Paul West, said a majority of the plan is focused on preservation and maintaining the current landscape, with vegetation restoration as the highest priority and largest investment. They explained that there are problems with some of the soil and existing plant life. Many of the trees are unhealthy or dying.
West, who has a background working as an arborist, said he’s most excited for the urban horticulture aspects of the plan. He described the current soil situation as critical and said that preserving the park’s beauty and trees would be the payoff of a great landscape.
This plan involved a great deal of community engagement through several surveys and a series of public meetings and open houses during which they took citizen suggestions and concerns.
“Overwhelmingly, what we heard was that people want to maintain the character of the park. Less is more,” West said.
People also have been able to (and still can) contribute feedback via the city’s Let’s Talk website (https://letstalk.mercergov.org/AubreyDavis). There, they also can view documents and learn more about the plan.
Daly said they received many different ideas, some of which did not get enough community support to make it into the plan, but others did. Some concerns were expressed, in particular with regard to visibility, intersections, cross traffic and pedestrian safety on the bike trails.
“It’s been a lot of work to get to these 60 pages,” Daly said. He and West said they enjoyed working with residents on the plan.
“The open houses were probably the most fun part of this plan. When you get the community in, you get to hear their passion for parks,” Daly said.
“You get to hear how much they care about the parks,” West said.
Several key areas of focus were identified, and as such the master plan is divided into the four main categories of vegetation management, trail improvements, park improvements, and arts, culture and placemaking.
The community shares a strong interest in the arts and visual components, such as the park’s existing art features, and they aim to have art components from one end to the other. Art to be included in the future could range anywhere from sculptures to architectural elements or even landscaping features.
More than just art installations and pieces, they want to focus on placemaking and events that bring the community together, such as the annual Art Uncorked.
Daly said the park is a long walk, being more than 90 acres and 2.8 miles long. ADP includes two softball fields, four tennis courts, a picnic shelter, two playground areas, public restrooms, two basketball courts and acres of open space. The lid park, the Mountains to Sound Trail, a boat launch and the Greta Hackett Outdoor Sculpture Gallery are all a part of the park.
While the community has shown little interest for new amenities, residents have shown support for a new restroom near the playground area.
“This is a challenging park to master plan. It has a lot of elements and it’s not city owned. Community feedback has been essential,” Daly said.
West and Daly said a large aspect of the plan that received much discussion is the park’s trail, frequently used by both pedestrians and cyclists. The trail is part of the regional trail system and is a major non-motorized transportation facility. Some safety concerns stem from poor visibility and the path being shared by foot traffic and bike traffic, especially around sports fields, playgrounds and restrooms.
The plan going forward is to align with the WSDOT standard recommendation for a trail to be 12 feet wide. Some areas of the trail are already that wide, so only some parts need to be widened. They will continue to work with WSDOT on additional safety features like surface markings, lights, signage, and potential separate pedestrian walkways.
The pair said this was the most debated topic. Many people want to leave the trail unchanged, some wanted it to be even wider.
The plan is only conceptual and after adoption would require more work for designing and approval of individual projects before anything can be carried out. Public input will be gathered for those processes as well. The plan’s passing also wouldn’t put any individual projects ahead of other city projects, Daly said, and it’s likely that any non-WSDOT facilities, such as playgrounds, ball fields and restrooms, could go into a city capital improvement plan.
Daly said he is excited for the chance to create more park components that align with Americans with Disabilites Act standards, giving better access to the park for all residents. He wants to improve safety and increase opportunities for as many people to use the park as possible. He and West noted that there are four large retirement centers downtown whose residents make good use of the park and its walking trails. They hope this will continue to be a good place for grandparents to come and walk their grandkids.
“Creating that opportunity is really important,” Daly said.
Aubrey Davis, former council member and mayor, was the city’s champion who fought for mitigation when I-90 was slated to run through the city. The park is dedicated to him, but has been known as the ‘lid park’ or simply as the downtown park that goes over the freeway from bridge to bridge. But now, following the community outreach, West says people refer to the park more by its name.
“The master plan has put the park back on the map and really changed the way the community relates to the park,” he said.
He and Daly also mentioned the parks department’s upcoming parks and recreation open space plan, which the ADP master plan will coincide with.
The ADP draft master plan, which is 60 pages long, is available to read on the city’s website. (https://bit.ly/31PcBtW)
The thorough, lengthy presentation for council did not make it all the way through in the allotted hour. The presentation will continue before the city council on Nov. 4. Then they will collect input and aim to present a revised plan on Nov. 17.