Zoo zone

Doing the right thing for neighbors, visitors and the Portland metro community

The zoo prides itself on being a good neighbor. As new plans and projects move forward, the zoo and its neighbors have been working toward shared goals.

The Oregon Zoo operates under a conditional use permit issued by the City of Portland. Every ten years, when the zoo updates its master plan, Metro submits a conditional use master plan application to the city for review and approval. When the zoo submits its application, the city will conduct a thorough evaluation of the zoo's proposed new development and its potential impacts as well as benefits, to surrounding neighborhoods and other users of Washington Park. Over the past year, Metro and zoo staff have worked with city officials, other park attractions and residential neighbors to consider effects of zoo operations and address any concerns.

There are two primary ways zoo construction and activities affect neighbors and broader community interests: 1) Washington Park access, traffic and parking and 2) stormwater management.

Getting to the zoo

On a busy summer weekend, the parking lot is jammed and the line of cars backs up to Highway 26. There simply isn't enough space in upper Washington Park to accommodate all the visitors who wish to drive to their favorite attractions. As the zoo makes improvements to its animal habitats and education facilities, it must also consider how people travel to the zoo, if the numbers of visitors are likely to increase and how increases in visitors would affect the community.

The MAX light rail system is a great alternative for accessing the park. The station is located in the center of the upper park and is just a couple of stops from both downtown Portland and Beaverton. It is the best way to travel to the zoo for concerts, zoo lights and other popular events. On weekends, park visitors can find plenty of parking in downtown Portland lots and arrive at the zoo within minutes, avoiding traffic congestion altogether. The zoo strongly encourages visitors to take advantage of MAX and enjoy a carefree ride to the park.

MAX may not be the answer for all visitors. In reality, many zoo guests who drive to the zoo come with family and friends in groups of three or more. These carpools constitute an additional viable form of mass transit. However, parking on site will always be in short supply so the zoo and its partners are exploring alternatives.

Planning future access

The parking lot used by the zoo is owned by the City of Portland Parks Bureau and is shared by the Oregon Zoo, the Portland Children's Museum, Hoyt Arboretum and The World Forestry Center. During the busy summer season, particularly when these park attractions simultaneously host special events, some overflow parking from the upper park moves into adjacent residential neighborhoods. To manage this overflow, the zoo directs visitors to nearby parking lots and runs shuttles to the zoo. However, the zoo master planning process has provided the impetus to address the challenges of park access, transportation and parking more holistically.

The Children's Museum, Forestry Center, Arboretum, Zoo and Japanese Garden decided to work together on parking and other mutual interests. They established a partnership called the Washington Park Alliance and their executive directors meet regularly, joined by TriMet and Portland Parks & Recreation staff, to address shared issues. They seek ways to accommodate a variety of modes of travel so that visitors have safe and efficient options to access to the park that minimize environmental impacts and effects on adjacent neighborhoods.

Over the past months, with the Alliance's support, the zoo has taken the lead in a holistic analysis of park access, entry, circulation and parking demand. With the help of expert consultants, the Alliance is considering a number of changes to more effectively manage traffic and parking. These include consistent parking fee collection, improvements to shuttle service and increased incentives to ride light rail to the park. The Alliance is exploring development of a transportation management association, a nonprofit organization that would manage parking, traffic and park access.

Parking and nearby neighborhoods

The zoo has taken the lead to address neighborhood concerns. Over the past year, the zoo held seven workshops with the two adjacent neighborhood associations focused on traffic, safety and parking concerns. Neighbors are supportive of many of the proposed solutions and the zoo is committed to working closely with the City of Portland, the other park attractions and neighborhood representatives to improve the park and avoid impacts to neighborhoods.

Washington Park's western gateway

Washington Park Alliance is also considering entry to the park from Highway 26 and identifying ways to make it more welcoming and attractive, provide better direction to visitors and move traffic more efficiently. Historically, the entire park was connected by a lovely serpentine drive. While visitors still enjoy that meandering road on the north side of the park coming up from southwest Portland, it has been mostly obliterated in the upper park by construction and reconstruction of the parking lot. The Alliance and city officials are exploring opportunities for reestablishing that graceful entry drive and an appropriately grand southern park entry.

A number of creative solutions are emerging from these conversations. City officials are considering some improvements that could be made within the next several years, some that could take place over 10 years and some that are visionary and may take 15 years or more.


Water in its many forms – ground water, creeks, and stormwater – is a key element of the zoo site, and water use is a sizable element and cost of zoo operations. As zoo staff and consultants developed the master plan, they incorporated water conservation and reuse into all aspects of site planning. A new backflow prevention valve was installed on the zoo's main water line to prevent collected rainwater from contaminating city tap water, facilitating rainwater harvest. The zoo is harvesting rainwater at the newly completed Veterinary Medical Center and reusing it within that building where drinking water quality isn't essential, such as for flushing toilets and hosing down animal areas. Each new facility will incorporate similar water conservation measures.

While the zoo will not be harvesting stormwater from the parking lot as part of the current campus improvements, there are plans to do so in the future, ideally storing significant quantities of runoff so that it can be filtered, cleansed and reused within the zoo during the dry season.

The zoo is also protecting stormwater that leaves the site. New construction will avoid environmentally sensitive areas and stream corridors that cross zoo property, ensuring that there will be no impacts on downstream habitats.