Forget about Biking to the State Fair

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.)

Minnesota State Fair _ Maps

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.

Fair-suggested directions
For comparison, here is the route that makes sense:
Rational Directions

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:

driving example
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.

About Janne Flisrand

Janne Flisrand spends her time thinking about how people interact with the space around them. Why do they (or don't they) walk or bike or shop somewhere? How do spaces feel? Why do people sit here and not there? Why bus instead of bike, bike instead of drive? What sorts of spaces build community, and what sorts kill it? Can spaces build civic trust and engagement?

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32 thoughts on “Forget about Biking to the State Fair

  1. Nicole

    We biked last year, and I also thought actual access from the Transitway to the corrals was ridiculous. However, the corrals themselves were great–secure, friendly, spacious. We had to improvise a but for cargobike parking, but that’s a regular occurrence too.

    I think removing the bike lanes on Como is completely ridiculous, BUT the gridlock is so bad with cars on Como that it actually wasn’t harrowing to traverse by bike. Traffic moved at bike-speed, and folks were pretty good at giving us a wide berth.

    So, while they could certainly do a better job, we found it quite the nicest way to get to and from the Fair.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      I biked to the Fair last year, and generally thought it was a good way to go, but I had forgotten that I had to do some navigating to get to the corral.

      I’d still have done it this year if I could have talked my wife into it.

  2. Janne

    Nicole, you’re right that traffic that is standing still is not harrowing.

    A friend just updated me with a report that they have closed part of the initial recommended route to bikes. The distance is the same, but the now-available lengthy route has heavier traffic (although not as heavy as Como, so possibly more harrowing, recognizing as Nicole points out).

    Here’s a link to a map of the new route:,+Minnesota/Randall+Ave+%26+Buford+Ave,+Falcon+Heights,+MN/@44.9804585,-93.1837636,16z/data=!4m24!4m23!1m15!1m1!1s0x52b32c9fd1e2e5b9:0x1c33750da1840951!2m2!1d-93.1808746!2d44.9764746!3m4!1m2!1d-93.1872622!2d44.9790622!3s0x52b32c99627acf15:0x7913584412b2d250!3m4!1m2!1d-93.1872119!2d44.9840707!3s0x52b32c84b6fabe89:0xc67998597865241a!1m5!1m1!1s0x52b32b7cb501e05d:0x2ba6814c8f45dc63!2m2!1d-93.1771647!2d44.9841084!3e1

    1. Nicole

      I would NOT take that route. I didn’t even take that route when I went to school there! If I’m getting on Como at all (which you shouldn’t even have to), I’m going directly to the bike corral and not out and around AND on busy Cleveland AND straight uphill for no reason at all. Clearly whomever thought of this doesn’t ride a bike.

      For the record, we’re taking the bus tomorrow… I’ll miss the bike ride. :/

      1. Nicole

        To be clear, we used the corral at Snelling and Como last year. If the route was open to continue along the Transitway, the Buford corral would obviously make more sense, but there’s no way I would take the roundabout route they recommend to get there.

        We had to take the lane on Como, and while I would not let my kids ride that independently, and it was easily the worst part of the whole 8-mile trip, it worked out okay, and I’d do it again.

        I just can’t figure out WHY they don’t have bikes continuing north on the Transitway. It’s not like they’re not already mixing with the buses south of Como…

  3. jklein

    Consider yourself lucky you weren’t approaching from the south – crossing the tracks on snelling is harrowing. Still, I would only ever bike to the fair.

    1. Janne

      Not being from there, I assumed folks would try to ride north somewhere east of Snelling and then in from the east, rather than up Snelling — I can’t even imagine!

      1. Mike Sonnmikesonn

        I’ll be coming from Snelling/Randolph. Probably just take the bus because I’ll have to bike pretty far to the east to find a safe crossing, then come all the way back.

        Thanks, St Paul!

  4. Toby

    To reach the corral at Buford and Randall from Como and Transitway, avoid Como and Cleveland by ducking through married student housing, right on Commonwealth (becomes Dan Patch at the Fair boundary), left and gear down to climb the hill (hills are your friend) by the Vet School (Gortner) and turn right (Buford) to coast by Earle Brown down to the corral.

    Traffic through the St Paul campus is light during the fair with the current parking/traffic configuration. Limited event parking for $10 is available at one ramp and one lot.

    1. Janne

      Toby, how do you do that if you are arriving via the Transitway? It’s true that traffic through the campus is easy, but getting there is not.

      1. Toby

        Janne asked “Toby, how do you do that if you are arriving via the Transitway?” fire up maps (I am looking at Google Maps) in satellite view to see this. From Trainsitway & Como, West on the Como sidewalk about 150′, right on the driveway, right on Fifield st. Follow Fifield, right and left, right on Knapp, left on Fifield to Commonwealth. Right on Commonwealth, left on Gortner, right on Buford. There may be a way to avoid some of the hill: right on Fitch. At the East end of Fitch, via sidewalk, you might cut through the parking lot and go directly to the corral.

        1. Mike Sonnmikesonn

          Wow, that sounds like some serious BS of a route.

          “Just go left, right, left, right, through a bank parking lot, around the sprinkler, back-track to the Arby’s, right, then left, then left, then curve to the right. Easy, it is all right there on Google.”

  5. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    Planners often think that 90% is good enough, but for bicyclists, it’s often not. It’s particularly in the last stretches, through the busy intersections, that we need bike infrastructure. Without continuity, the rest of the bike lane is largely worthless.

    Also, it’s worth noting that the fair planners have banned pedicabs from the main gate this year. Last year they let a few cabs park there to pick up passengers.

    Fair people should be smart about traffic and stop caring about the car congestion, which they can do NOTHING about and is an insoluble problem. (This is a textbook case of limitless demand.)

  6. George

    As someone who works on the St. Paul campus and is just now enjoying the State Fair traffic on Raymond/Cleveland on my commutes every day, it’s pretty clear that the UMN St. Paul campus and the surrounding neighborhood is easily 10-20 years behind the Minneapolis campus in terms of bike safety and infrastructure. The nearby roads with bike lanes in St. Paul are, as the mayor described a few days ago, like “the surface of the Moon” and are often covered with gravel and sharp debris.

    I’ve adapted the old saying: “You can put bike lanes on a pig…”

    Traveling north on Raymond and continuing on Cleveland, as soon as you cross into Falcon Heights, the bike lanes magically disappear, with only one or two green “Share the Road” signs. Cars are often parked on the side of the road and it’s like a game of chicken when waiting to see if a car behind you is going to pass you before you can squeeze by the rapidly-approaching parked cars. This is all despite the fact that Cleveland is absolutely wide enough to accommodate painted bike lanes in both directions.

    Finally, with State Fair traffic comes drivers from all over the state and region who might not be used to driving in an urban area and sharing the road with bicyclists. I’ve had plenty of very close calls in the last few days and weeks.

    Surely the State Fair has enough cash to not only beef up its bike infrastructure to solve the problems you talked about (encouraging bike use and relieving traffic congestion) but also to enhance the Share the Road signage, traffic policing, and so on?

    This is all on top of UMN St. Paul dragging its heels with regards to biking in the neighborhood.

  7. Nathan Campeau

    I led a group of high schoolers to the Fair on Sunday from Minneapolis. It was a great trip using all sorts of wonderful bike infrastructure beginning in South Minneapolis, until we got to Como. We were immediately stopped (and scolded) for trying to ride to the Buford corral the most direct way. I have biked on Como to the east corral before and knew that without bike lanes the route would not be safe for the students, so we biked towards Cleveland and went the long route to the Buford corral. Further frustrating us was that when we left the fair and tried to walk to the bike corral by crossing Randall, we were yelled at by a cop who said that we weren’t allowed to cross the road in that location (the only location we could cross to get to the corral). We explained that we were going to get our bikes and were then allowed to cross, but our kids did not deserve to be yelled at by a cop. In general, it seems that the Fair is going to extreme efforts to discourage people from biking, which seems counter-intuitive.

    It really seems that making the last 2 blocks to get to the Fair should be an easy problem to solve. I hope someday they figure it out. Not destroying bike lanes would be a nice place to start.

  8. Evan RobertsEvan

    The traffic is moving so slowly on Como this seems like the right moment for vehicular cycling on Como. 2 abreast all the way to the bike corral.

  9. Sarah

    I used to use the North corral for biking to the fair, but wasn’t sure exactly how to get there, so I used the Snelling/Como corral, and just biked on Como from the intersection of Raymond/Como. I didn’t realize they’d removed the bike lane on Como, so I more or less took the lane and didn’t have any incidents (traffic moved pretty slowly — and at least there were no buses). I stopped to ask a traffic cop on the way home how to get to the new North corral, and she suggested taking Cleveland > Commonwealth > Gortner > Buford. Maybe next year.

  10. Valentine

    This really does require some attention by the fair organizers: every year I have participated (ironically, often, in the Eco-Experience), I’ve had awful experiences biking, particularly being yelled at and harassed by fair police, fairgoers, and fair parking vendors for things that *are not in any way obviously wrong to cycle commuters*, like trying to bicycle on the road (roads to the parking lots and corrals, as people have noted, are for CARS ONLY, not for cycles-as-vehicles, nor for pedestrians walking their bikes) or trying to bicycle in the transitway (whereas the usual buses are accustomed to bikes, the suburban ones often are NOT).

    Frayed-nerve fair drivers honk and threaten from their XL cars, and an elderly woman tried to push me into traffic (literally!) from the sidewalk (amidst a chorus of yells that I should not be on the road). I agree that the bike corrals are a fine idea — and the people staffing them have always been wonderful, but it would make SO MUCH SENSE to *encourage* more bike traffic (=less car traffic) to the fair, and not make it so stressful and offputting.

    1. Janne

      I have to second your comment that the people who staff the corrals are fantastic. They are one of my consistent State Fair highlights! (For those who haven’t used them, imagine a stereotype of the nicest Minnesotan, multiply times two, and you have bike corral staff.)

  11. Alex

    In 2010 Ramsey County Engineer (the title, not the position) Ken Haider told me that the Como Ave lanes were removed at the request of Metro Transit. Here are his exact words:

    Mr. Bauman, each year during the Fair, Metro Transit requests the bike lanes be “un-striped” to accommodate all the extra buses that serve the various park and ride lots. This has worked out well in the past. I’m sorry about the inconvenience.

    It appears Ramsey County now has a new engineer. I’ll see what his excuse is.

    1. Shomsky

      Can we band together with the bike coral people? I propose a bicycle tramway be installed on the state fairgrounds connecting the bicycle coral to the transit station. This could move riders quickly over and above the crowds below.

  12. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    How about replacing a bunch of the buses with Nice Rides? For lots within a mile or two of the fairgrounds you park and hop on a bike instead of waiting (and waiting and waiting) on a bus. The fine folks at the MN State Fair will have insured that there are really great cycleways between the lot and the fairgrounds.

    I wonder what it costs to run a bus back and forth? How much would a gob of bikes cost?

    Let’s see, 4 miles total, about 300 calories burned, that’s a couple of Sweet Martha’s cookies and half of something on a stick.

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  14. Liz

    Adding to the chaos, the Commonwealth Ave gates are closed to foot and pedestrian traffic this year. The ‘alternate route’ wouldn’t work. I know because I tried it on foot. At least on foot its possible to cut through campus a bit, but the closest open gate is Buford and Dan Patch. Apparently they hate bikes and pedestrians equally.

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  16. Ron

    The State Fair is always closing the last segment of the Bus/Bike route for something. I ride this thing all the time and agree it stinks.

    At least for the State Fair with all the buses, and there are a ton of buses, I can see why. You can google map the bike lane and see that it ends going north about 1/2 of the way to Commonwealth. That’s a really bad spot for a pinch point of buses and bikes.

  17. my hyggelig

    forget about getting to the state fair, i ride in the lovely Como lane every single week. during the state fair I either take the route and grit my teeth as I navigate nervously through that last bit where they have vaporized the bike lane before the transit way (which I turn right on for my ride), or i avoid it all together. every single year this blacking out of the bike lane makes absolutely NO sense to me. this needs to change for people who regularly ride this route, as well as fair goers. thanks for bringing up this issue!

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