The State Fair’s missing sidewalks

Some of the notable sidewalk gaps around the Minnesota State Fair.

Some of the notable sidewalk gaps around the Minnesota State Fair.

For Streets.mn’s “Our Fair State” series during the Minnesota State Fair, I don’t really have a good story to tell about an out-state event. I do, however, live less than a mile from the State Fairgrounds and wanted to share a little of what this heavily pedestrian-oriented event is like to be around the other 353 days of the year.
Our Fair State

One of the most surprising things, considering how the fair itself is known for its huge crowds of people doing that seemingly unnatural thing of walking, is that the fairgrounds is missing some sizable chunks of sidewalks around its periphery. Some roads, such as Randall Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue which are on the University of Minnesota Side, aren’t major through streets, so may not really need sidewalks, but the busy Como Avenue and even busier Snelling Avenue really should see some improvements made.

The missing sidewalk on the north side of Como Avenue between Liggett Street and the University of Minnesota Transitway is mostly just an annoyance since there is still a grassy area to walk on. The lack of a sidewalk on the Snelling Avenue side of the fairgrounds north of Dan Patch Avenue/Midway Parkway is far more dangerous—Snelling Avenue through there is signed at 40 miles per hour, and a lot of traffic goes much faster than that.

Up there, the fence surrounding the fairgrounds directly abuts the roadway near Arlington Avenue, meaning that anyone who attempts to walk along the west side of the road will find themselves walking right in a stream of high-speed traffic. Sadly, there’s no real reason to have the fence jut out at that point, other than perhaps to protect a natural gas line. There is enough empty space for a sidewalk along the entire stretch, though retaining the trees and lamp posts may be a challenge. Perhaps an alternative such as hanging plants would be a good alternative to trees in some spots.

When a sidewalk finally does get added on the west side of Snelling, there will still be a problem that Snelling Avenue itself is a busy roadway and hard to cross. But it’s possible to take advantage of the fact that northbound traffic can’t turn left anywhere between Dan Patch Avenue and Hoyt Avenue and add some pedestrian refuge islands on the south sides of intersections along the road.

Improvements are planned for Snelling Avenue, though a recent intermodal study of the corridor had the northern study area end right at Dan Patch Avenue.  For the Snelling “A Line” enhanced bus service being planned, there is a conspicuously large gap between stations right by the fairgrounds—largely because of the missing sidewalk on the west side.

But for the most part, I’ve seen the fairgrounds as being a pretty decent part of the neighborhood. After this year, the transit center is moving from its spot on Como Avenue up to the current Heritage Square area. I’m curious what the plans are for the vacated space, since it could be a nice place to develop. Are there any changes you’d like to see around the fairgrounds to make it a better place when the fair isn’t going on?


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10 Responses to The State Fair’s missing sidewalks

  1. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke August 30, 2013 at 9:56 am #

    The MNDOT Snelling ped/bike improvement plans that I’ve seen end right *before* they get to the fairground, and would do nothing to make walking safe along this stretch of the street.

  2. Walker August 30, 2013 at 10:03 am #

    I wonder if you could ride a bike to the fair and live to tell about it?

  3. Brendan August 30, 2013 at 10:37 am #

    Walker – Como Ave it generally a decent bike route, there are several entrances to the fair along Como. There is also, as I recall, a large enclosed bike parking set-up along Como as well. Of course Como is pretty traffic-y during the fair, so that may make it less appealing (on the other hand – cars aren’t moving very fast because they’re gridlocked).

    Another bike approach is via the St Paul UM campus. There is lesser-used entrance close to Heritage Square. Tends to be pretty mellow relative to the entrances on Como.

    All in all, my experience is that not only is is very easy to bike to the fair, but its actively encouraged along with the promotion of using metro transit and shuttles. Because there’s just no way get everyone in there in a car.

    Agree with the author on the need to improve the pedestrian environment.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke August 30, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

      “very easy” is an exaggeration. “doable” might be a word to use.

      • Janne August 30, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

        It is very easy to get near to the fair grounds, but the last 1/4 mile is really tough, especially if you’re coming from Mpls. When the fair isn’t in session, you can continue up the Transitway to the U and use the bike corral there, but during the fair the security guards won’t let you through (for no reason I can understand). Getting around to the northern corral is difficult and the bike lanes on Como are turned into car lanes during the fair.

        That said, I ALWAYS bike to the fair. It’s a sweet ride (up until that last bit), faster than any other way of getting there, and the friendly retired Minnesotans staffing the corrals alone make it worth the visit. And it feels good to ride home after an exhausting day at the fair.

      • jeffk August 31, 2013 at 9:50 am #

        It is bad news approaching from the south where you have to cross the tracks at snelling – essentially a freeway at that point. Lack of places to cross the tracks is to me the most frustrating part about st. Paul biking.

  4. Brendan August 31, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    Given the sheer number of people trying to get to the fair, I would say that the last 1/4 mile is going to be a bit of a cluster schmuster no matter your mode of travel. While “easy” is a stretch in absolute terms, I think its an accurate depiction of biking relative to any other way to get to the fair.

  5. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary September 1, 2013 at 12:02 am #

    Snelling has some deeper issues than the lack of sidewalk on the west side, of course. The bike/ped improvements for the portion south of Midway Parkway should be a real step in the right direction.

    This post is interesting, because there is actually something traditionally urban about the sidewalk gaps you mention (at least on Como and Snelling). Historically, we’ve thought about sidewalks as amenities for homeowners and business — in fact, in older communities, you’ll often find sidewalks installed in front of a single home or series of homes, despite not connecting to anything at all. When adjacent to parks, open spaces, and other public spaces, you’ll often find no sidewalks. (To name some examples: Willow St and 15th St by Loring Park, Chicago Ave by St. Mary’s Cemetery, Diamond Lake Rd by Pearl Park, and the north side sidewalk on any portion of Minnehaha Pkwy that does not have homes adjacent to it.)

    Now we tend to see sidewalks in an entirely different way, as a part of the street infrastructure — and that’s both better and worse all at the same time. Cities prioritize continuity and accessibility in ways they didn’t before (like crossings of railroad tracks). Yet homeowners often to see sidewalks as a burdensome part of public infrastructure. Modern home designs rarely connect to them directly, preferring to direct all traffic, pedestrian or vehicular, to the driveway first. When given the choice, cities will often plop new sidewalks adjacent to open spaces rather than serving homes, because they perceive less contentiousness.

    Installing the specific sidewalks you mention will do no harm to our culture of walking and public space — but their absence seems like a sign of a historical attitude that I wish we could go back to.

  6. Steve Gjerdingen September 3, 2013 at 11:15 pm #

    The lack of a sidewalk on the west side of Snelling by the Fairgrounds is a serious safety concern. I see people walking up Snelling on the west side every year during the fair. I agree that the fence is too close to the road and that natural gas line either needs to be relocated or not protected.

    Some year, I want to stand on the west side of Snelling Ave and hold up a sign that says “State Fair and MNDOT: Where’s the sidewalk?” while facing southbound traffic entering the Fair. Anyone in with me on this?

    The lack of the sidewalk on Como Ave is just pathetic because there is plenty of space to install it, yet the powers that be have neglected to.