Forget about biking to the State Fair

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Every year I remember the loveliness of the bike ride to get to the state fair. And then I’m reminded of the horror that is the last one tenth of one mile to the bike corral.  This is particularly problematic for anyone arriving on the U of M Transitway, which is the obvious way to ride there from Downtown, Dinkytown, or most of south Minneapolis.

Using the iconic Great Minnesota Get-Together map, the red arrow on the bottom is where someone biking from Minneapolis will pop out.  The red circle at the top left is the bike corral that it makes sense to get to. There’s another bike corral on the bottom right, but accessing it requires navigating the gridlock on Como – not recommended!  (There are usually lovely bike lanes on Como, but they are replaced by a car lane during the State Fair. We wouldn’t want anyone to get around the congestion on a bike, would we? That’d be cheating.)

Remembering this, I contacted the State Fair to ask, “How can bikes get from the Transitway to a bike corral? You have removed the Como bike lanes and put cars in the way. And you closed the bus + bike share lanes to be only buses. Thanks for the bike corrals, but… how do you get to them?”

They responded,

“Thank you for your email and interest in the Great Minnesota Get-Together. If you are on the west end of the fairgrounds, I would bike Cleveland north to Buford. There is a bike lot on Buford and Randall Ave. Then, walk from the Buford bike lot to Gate 16 or 18 to enter the grounds. Here is a link to a fairgrounds map.”*

I was gobsmacked.

Here is the route they suggested. The challenging stretch is from Como to Dan Patch, circled in red. their recommendation for connecting is 900% longer (.9 miles) than the “rational” route (.1 miles).  It’s also hillier and forces you to ride in a traffic lane on Como, which is choked with State-Fair-induced congestion.  While Como USUALLY sports a lovely bike lane, they hide it for the State Fair every year. It’s no 8 minutes, given navigating Como.

For comparison, here is the route that makes sense:

Now, an extra .8 miles doesn’t seem like much, but how about we look at an analogous and possibly easier-to-relate-to driving example. It’s not perfect, as drivers are more likely to go out of their way to get to a destination than people who walk or bike are, but it’ll do. I chose a downtown Minneapolis example, as it’s also congested and it’s an area I know.

I chose getting from the 394 exit  in downtown to the Minneapolis Central Library. Here’s the route that makes sense:

And, here’s an alternative route that’s 850% further, approximately equivalent to the State Fair’s lengthier suggestion. If you contacted the library for instructions and they directed you via Hennepin, with a scenic visit to Loring Park, and back through downtown, would you think they wanted you to come?

Maybe I’ll go to the State Fair, some other year when the Fair creates bike-access to their bike corrals for Minneapolitans.

*They didn’t mention the final humiliation. They require you to dismount and walk your bike the last way into the corral.

This post was written by Janne Flisrand and originally published on streets.mn. Follow streets.mn on Twitter: @streetsmn.

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Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 08/28/2014 - 10:20 am.

    It’s like they want us all to drive

    Ridiculous. I’m not an avid cyclist (not even close), and I’m not terribly interested in biking there. But this certainly wouldn’t convince me that it’s a viable alternative to driving or bussing.

  2. Submitted by Lora Jones on 08/28/2014 - 11:03 am.

    The U of M has bike racks and locks

    looks to me as if that’s a better alternative, even if you do need to walk yourself in, at least you’re not doubling back or rounding about . . .

  3. Submitted by Bill Connell on 08/28/2014 - 11:15 am.

    worse than it appears

    The route they suggested (Cleveland to Buford) is different than what you illustrate here, but even longer and worse, because Cleveland that far north is narrow and sketchy for biking.

    This year’s new bus area is a nice improvement, but they’re going to close off bike lanes, there should be new routes opened up.

    I live near the fair in Midway, and i’d love to offer a better way to bike there from the south or east, but St. Paul hasn’t made it easy to get across the rail yards to the fair. It’s certainly possible, but not direct.

    • Submitted by Janne Flisrand on 08/28/2014 - 02:55 pm.

      From the east…

      Bill, accessing the two corrals from the east (there’s a third one WAY up north) is supposed to be pretty good. The bike lanes are open on Como to the southeast corner of the fairgrounds, at least according to the commenters on streets.mn. Living to the SW of the fairgrounds, I’ve never had an opportunity to access them from that direction.

  4. Submitted by Michael Legard on 08/28/2014 - 11:25 am.

    The Fair is a dreadful citizen and neighbor

    It’s not just biking. Rest assured that the Fair has become little more than the Mall of America wearing a bucolic mask.

    They are slowly destroying the surrounding neighborhood in Como…Sadly abetted by short-sighted people filling their yards with cars despite opposition from other neighbors.

    The parking Compacts soil and creates run-off that affects Como lake and causes congestion that turns the air bad enough to make my kids asthmatic.

    I mean my god, people cut down trees and tear out gardens to park an extra car!

    Cars cars cars…you really expect the Fair to care about Biking?

    You got the typical PR flack response from the Fair, all gee-whiz with no substance. You’re lucky you got an answer at all, concerned neighbors get stonewalled by the Fair.

    The Fair has done nothing to be part of the solution to the extreme congestion, and it’s growing like cancer…off-season events can draw similar crowds and cause similar car-clogged streets. Como is a neighborhood under assault by a tone-deaf bully neighbor.

    Unfortunately our City Council member Stark, despite his Green Transport talk, is invisible when it comes to these issues.

    The Fair could do such a great and innovative job and take the lead in discouraging thousands of Vehicles taking part in an assault on the environment and neighborhood.

    But they’ve managed to pull a kind of Astroturf act and seem all folksy—when in reality they are profoundly money-focused, and despite running well over a million dollar “surplus” every year (oh, not a profit, no, being not-for-profit in theory)…

    They contribute none of this money via taxes (no taxes for them!) to the well-being of their neighbors or City in which they operate, and do nothing in the interest of the citizens of the state, or the environment.

    I can’t believe what people let the Fair get away with and what crap they fall for in annual “FairWashing” blather.

    Believe it or not, I used to love the fair. I’ve won Blue ribbons for crafts, worked there in booths and for the fair itself, attended every day even.

    And yes, I rode my bike and kept it in the then convenient and discounted bike corral.

    But something changed in the past 5 or 6 years, and it’s not a good change, and Minnesotans have lost something really special to greed.

    The Fair is just a corporate theme park now (no coincidence they have methodically driven out mom-and-pop stands).

    And they care about transport and the environment as much as the Mall of America does.

  5. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 08/28/2014 - 12:23 pm.

    Fair Transportation

    I used to take the bus into the fair as you could park in a lot nearby and take one of the feeder buses to the gate in about ten minutes. But then someone from the brain trust passed a law saying that Metro Transit can’t compete with private companies for contracts like this. The next year Lorentz took over the routes and it instantly became a total disaster. Buses were late or didn’t show up at all, broke down frequently, and all traffic was routed to the south gate, which created monumental traffic jams. Not to mention there was poor signage for passenger queues at the south parking lot.

    The situation has improved somewhat since then, but not enough to entice me back as long as Lorentz is running the show. Metro Transit had a nice simple operation and they were easy to work with. I have a feeling that some of the companies in the area feel the same way as businesses that used to provide their lots for park & rides stopped doing so when Lorentz took over. It makes me wonder what they did to piss people off so much that they didn’t renew their contracts.

    These days I throw the bikes on the back of the car, park on some distant side street, and bike the rest of the way into the fair. I may have to rethink that strategy though now that they’ve moved the bike corral and made it more difficult to get in there with two wheels.

    Fair management: How about giving the bikers a little love? Don’t treat us as second class citizens!

    • Submitted by Tom Clark on 09/03/2014 - 02:19 pm.

      Metro buses were better

      I also remember when the Metro Transit buses served the Park ‘n Ride lots, and when Lorentz took them over how it took longer to get to and from the Fairgrounds. It’s somewhat better now, but the problem is still that the fancy commuter buses aren’t designed for the job. Not only is there less passenger space on the fancy commuter buses, the lack of a rear exit door and the narrow aisles mean it takes much more time to get on and off, and if you have a stroller or trouble going up and down the steep and narrow steps, God help you!

  6. Submitted by Bill Davnie on 08/28/2014 - 12:34 pm.

    Biking to Fair

    I used the U of M Transitway and continued on Como to the bike parking area at Gate 6 yesterday — it was not difficult or dangerous. Heavy traffic is slow! So relax. Things could perhaps be better, but biking remains a great way to the Fair.

  7. Submitted by Ryan Scott on 08/28/2014 - 01:06 pm.

    Rode my bike to the park and ride, and hopped the bus in.

    Glad I didn’t try making it all the way there.

  8. Submitted by Peter Vader on 08/28/2014 - 01:22 pm.

    Room for improvement, sure.

    Only one south-side corral is a drag, but with buses routed to the new transit center Como is greatly improved. Making my way to the Snelling/Como corral one proceeds with street traffic in either lane after turning off the transit way, crossing to the north/fairgrounds sidewalk when safe and/or practical. If I’m on the sidewalk and need to walk my bike the last tenth of a mile it’s a “humiliation” (I trust Ms. Filsrand used the term in jest) I’m willing to endure.

  9. Submitted by Mark Snyder on 08/28/2014 - 02:45 pm.

    not that bad

    I’ve ridden my bike to the Fair four times so far this year. The first day, I came from Roseville and took Fairview to Larpenteur Ave to the bike corrals at Snelling and Hoyt, which wasn’t too bad, though you’d never know those were an option without consulting a Fair map first. Some signage might be nice.

    The other days, I came straight across Como Ave from Minneapolis to the bike corrals at Como and Snelling. Even with the bike lanes removed, I had little trouble with it. I suppose folks not used to biking in traffic might be a bit apprehensive, but I think it’s a stretch to go so far as to not recommend it.

    And it’s still far faster for me to make this five-mile trip directly by bike than driving/parking onsite or taking any Park and Ride bus could possibly hope to be.

  10. Submitted by Jake Mohan on 08/28/2014 - 03:27 pm.

    Never again

    Biking to the fair has always been an unpleasant hassle at best, and a terrifying ordeal at worst. I’ve been buzzed by buses and almost run off the road by private vehicles using the transitway, yelled at by fair-goers, and last year a police officer used his loudspeaker to yell at me to get on the sidewalk, then buzzed me. I’m not holding my breath waiting for the SPPD to respond to the complaint I filed: http://thedependentclause.com/post/59874827908

  11. Submitted by Jeffrey Swainhart on 08/29/2014 - 06:42 am.

    I biked to the fair

    and this years trip was definitely a down grade from previous year’s experience.

    Before:
    I’d come in on Raymond/Cleveland to the Commonwealth gate and boom, I was on the fairground. I remember getting tickets was a snap from the agents on foot serving the pedestrian traffic.

    Now:
    Raymond/Cleveland to Buford (longer ride) to the bike corral. Then a long walk, then long lines in an area shared by all the transit arrivals.

    Once upon a time bikers got $ off their tickets. Now in a time when cycling is beginning to take its rightful place as a major mode of transportation in our cities the State Fair further marginalizes rather than encourages biking.

  12. Submitted by Serafina Scheel on 09/01/2014 - 04:45 pm.

    The challenges of biking to the fair

    Biking to the State Fair remains confusing and dangerous, particularly with children. I’m frustrated because it’s really hard to get information from the State Fair on bike lane changes during the duration. They just expect people to magically know? There are no clear signs posted that the the last vital section of the transitway is closed to bikes or that bike lanes on Como are closed. Nor is there information on this big change on the Bike to the Fair webpage. They seem to rely on volunteers or security to yell at people individually. Pedestrians and cars get helpful routing signs on Raymond, but not bikes. Why they want to make biking less safe during the fair than it is during the rest of the year is beyond me.

  13. Submitted by Steve Rose on 09/03/2014 - 09:22 am.

    Park & Ride by the Ford Plant

    On Mississippi River Blvd. South, just south of Ford Parkway, there is a State Fair Park & Ride. It is in the parking lot of the Ford Plant’s hydroelectric plant. Ride the trails of Minnehaha Parkway or the Greenway to the Mississippi River and directly to the free bus, avoiding all of the access and safety issues of biking to the fair grounds.

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