Biking Through a Circus

On Sunday my children and I were meeting friends at Minnehaha Park and then planned to stop for ice cream and some book shopping in Highland Village. It is only a nine mile round trip and parking at Minnehaha Park is difficult so we decided to ride our bicycles. My six-year old rode on the back of our cargo bike, while my nine-year old is able to ride on his own.

We left our house in the West End of Saint Paul and headed to the bike lanes on Lexington Parkway, planning to head up Montreal Avenue to Highland Park. To my chagrin, we met with a Circus Juventas performance. Now, a circus performance sounds great, right? One would think a youth circus would be tons of fun. Nope. For us it means only fear and danger and not the fun kind.

The Circus has its big top in Highland Park and has an arrangement with the city of Saint Paul to allow parking in the bike lane during its performances. This is what the road looked like.

Where’s the bike lane?

When the bike lane was installed, parking was removed from West Seventh Street to Hamline Avenue. There are two car travel lanes in each direction and then the bike lane. From Hamline Avenue to Snelling Avenue there is a single car lane in each direction, the bike lane, and then parking. During performances the bike lane is blocked from West Seventh Street to Hamline Avenue, but is open west of Hamline Avenue.

Without the bike lane on Montreal, the alternatives are going two miles out of the way on the trail on Shepard Road or taking Randolph which has no bike lanes.

The red line is the closed bike lane.

In the past I have come upon this and just cancelled our plans and went home. Yesterday I was determined. At first, my nine-year old biked on the sidewalk while I took the right lane on the cargo bike. The sidewalk was crowded, however, and people were sniping at my child for biking on the sidewalk. So, I had him come into the lane and ride close by me.

Riding on the sidewalk before it was too crowded.

Despite being in the center of the lane, we were buzzed by car drivers trying to drive in our lane. One person told my son to “fuck off” and “get the fuck off the road.” It was great.

I was glad to get past this traffic and try to enjoy the rest of our ride.

The Circus needs a traffic plan that focuses on getting patrons to the show in ways other than cars. The big top seats 1,000 people and it seems all of them drive.  Currently, their website says:

“Parking: Free (limited space) parking lot, and street parking. Circus Juventas recommends that patrons plan to arrive 45 minutes before the event time, as the parking lot fills up quickly. Designated handicapped parking is in the parking lot, but spaces are limited.”

There is no information about transit routes or bicycle options.

This is despite being within walking distance of two major transit routes. The Circus could provide incentives to take the 54 or A-line. Right now people park as far away as the bus stops – this is not an unrealistic distance to expect people to walk. They could provide shuttles from airport overflow lots or other unused parking lots, like the Highland Park High School. They could use the second car lane as parking and provide a temporary barrier to protect the bike lane. Parking at Highland Park should be prioritized for those with mobility limitations, while others should be incented to car pool, bus, or bike. Language on the website could point people to other options and warn that vehicles with less than four people will not be allowed to park in the lot at Highland.

The red is the airport overflow lot. There could be a shuttle. The yellow stars are bus stops.

Large events and unique organizations like Circus Juventas are great to have in the neighborhood. The reality is, however that everyone cannot drive everywhere all the time, especially when it endangers people who live in the neighborhood. Organizations of all types need to start thinking about traffic management to discourage driving. People should be able to enjoy a youth circus. My family should also be able to enjoy safe travels. The Circus needs a plan that respects its neighbors and encourages only those who need to drive to do so and those who have other options to take those.

Dana DeMaster

About Dana DeMaster

Dana DeMaster, MPP, is a program evaluator and researcher for human services programs who lives and bikes in Saint Paul. When she’s not analyzing data, she can be found rabble-rousing for neighborhood bike improvements in Saint Paul, playing Legos with her two children, or sewing practical things. You can find some of her other writing on the Grease Rag and Wrench blog.

24 thoughts on “Biking Through a Circus

  1. Tom BasgenTom Basgen

    The always available parking along the golf course on Montreal and Hamline is never filled but still they insist they need the bike lane on one of the biggest hills in Saint Paul.

    1. Dave

      It’s tricky because Montreal is technically state highway 51 at that point. It’s the main route to get from Highway 5 to Snelling, which becomes highway 51 at the Montreal/Snelling intersection. I think that it certainly could handle a road diet with current traffic volumes and it seem way overbuilt, but you have to deal with all the additional bureaucracy.

      1. Paul Nelson

        By definition a highway is “a public way freely open to everyone, by high legislative intent” A highway is not a road built just to move cars and trucks. Everyone should be able to walk, and pedal drive a bike safely on all highways. Snelling Ave 51 should have protected bike lanes the entire length. Everyone should be able to walk safely and bike on these roads.

  2. Mike Hicks

    It would be nice if there was a way to climb the hill from the existing bus stop across from Mickey’s Diner on West 7th Street. I wish the Riverview corridor project was looking at including a stop there, but I don’t think they are. I think the closest stop will be at West 7th and Albion Ave or maybe the planned Lexington reroute which will cut through the block west of that intersection to connect to Elway Street (2,500 to 2,000 feet away, depending, though it involves climbing the steepest part of the hill).

    Unfortunately, the A Line is pretty far from Circus Juventas, with the nearest stop way up at the intersection of Snelling Ave and Highland Parkway, about 1.2 miles away. The bus line turns at Snelling and Ford Parkway, but there isn’t a stop there. Route 84 gets farther south and turns at Snelling and Montreal, still putting it about 0.7 miles from Circus Juventas.

    It might be nice if a bus could run along Edgcumbe Road or Hamline Ave.

    Anyway, I’d like to solve that using some sort of regular-route transit, but that’s hard considering the geography of the area. An event-specific shuttle would be a good option, though, and could connect the closest bus stops and also a few nearby underused parking areas.

    The Gloria Dei Lutheran Church at Snelling and Highland could be a starting point, allowing people to park there or take the A Line. A shuttle could go south to the Highland Park Middle/High Schools to make use of the parking there. There are underused lots at the golf course that Tom mentioned. The shuttle could also go east to pick up people at the West 7th/Albion stop of the 54, and maybe loop around down Montreal Way to access some of the underused commercial parking in that area, or go to Nova Classical Academy. A 2- to 3-mile route, depending on whether the shuttle needs to go into/through the parking lots or not.

  3. Monte Castleman

    If parking is such a problem, maybe rather than expecting people to not take their cars there we should find a spot with plenty of parking. There’s plenty of locations in the suburbs and I’m sure some in the city.

    As for Montreal, it already has a single through lane in both directions except for the westbound direction up the hill. Undoubtedly although not marked as such it’s intended to be a truck climbing lane rather than based on AADT volumes.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      It only has one lane through lane except where it has two 😉

      Yeah, assume it’s a meant as a climbing lane, except that it’s uphill all the way to Snelling and things seems to still function at Edgcumbe and points further west. Maybe slightly less steep, but still pretty steep.

      1. Dana DeMasterDanaD

        I have biked up Montreal with kids on a cargo bike enough times to know exactly how steep it is!

      1. Julie Kosbab

        Well, just as we talk about “the last mile” when discussing transit and bikes, trucks are often “the last mile” from rail. A lot of freight is moved by rail, but it has to get to and from the yard, often as containerized freight.

        Obviously, this is different from OTR truck transport when I say this, but a non-zero amount of some city routes is being used by container freight.

        1. Matty LangMatty Lang

          Yeah, I get it. It doesn’t need to be by container in the urban core though. Small trucks to and from the yards is feasible if we want to do that. It’s done elsewhere.

  4. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    Seems like the clear answer is to remove the 2nd (climbing) car lane temporarily only for the circus performances. There must be a way to do this using temporary measures. I think the Circus should be able to find the money for this, after all they are finding the money to erect fancy billboards all over the metro area.

    1. Dana DeMasterDana DeMaster Post author

      Yes. The performances are evenings and weekends so I don’t imagine there is a ton of truck traffic at that time. Use the second lane as the parking lane and put a temporary barrier in to protect the bike lane.

      Aside from the danger and inconvenience though organizations need to start developing traffic management plans that don’t rely on everyone driving by themselves. We are facing a climate crisis and it is irresponsible not to do so, particularly when other options are so readily available. How many people would take the bus, car pool, or bike if they were old about those options and how to use them?

      1. Brian

        You seem to assume that many of the attendees come from close enough to walk, bike, or take transit. There are few transit options for most outside of the core cities and even fewer options on weekends.

        It is hard to convince a family of four to take a bus when it costs $18 to buy eight fares (assuming the performance doesn’t end within 2.5 hours of getting on the bus) versus $5 to $6 for gas.

        That said, nobody should be able to block bike lanes for parking.

        1. Frank Phelan

          I’d like to see this addressed on at some point. I’m talking about what a family might pay for transit fares when attending an event together.

          A related issue (to me) is that the new Metro Transit fare structure screws high school aged kids by charging them adult fares, something I didn’t have to do outside of rush hour.

          1. Julie Kosbab

            There are definitely cities that handle some of this better. Or did. I suspect one of the transit lines of my childhood is no longer doing what it used to, which allowed an adult a $5 weekend pass, and kids rode free with a paying adult. My dad would sometimes take my brother on the train to the city and back to get him out of my mum’s hair on a weekend or approaching a Major Holiday when she’d want to bake.

        2. Walker AngellWalker Angell

          If people had to pay a fair rate for parking instead of getting it for free (and in this case at Dana’s expense) then the cost of transit might seem quite good.

          People don’t necessarily need to live within close proximity to not drive a bunch of individual cars for the entire trip. They can drive their car to a park & ride and then take a bus or Nice Ride. Circus Juventus could also offer a shuttle service from locations in the suburbs.

          1. Brian

            What park and rides have service on the weekends other than the blue line?

            This isn’t the State Fair with 250,000 people on a single day. There are 1,250 people per performance so it would be insanely expensive to have shuttles running all over the metro.

            Again, they should NOT be allowed to block a bike lane for parking.

  5. Peter Engel

    The performances include afternoons as well. The Circus venue seats 1,250, not 1,000. A quick check of the ticket avails shows the 17 dates as almost sold out. So that’s over 21,250 attendees and their respective cars. I ride the hill daily. There is always truck traffic. The event grosses almost a half a million dollars. They could afford to arrange shuttle service and remote parking for their guests. Gloria Dei Church does a similar thing for the State Fair. Its right on the rapid bus line. We need to get the cars off both sides of Montreal. The east bound lane is reduced to one lane with the parking in the bike lane. It is just as dangerous for downhill riders. No other business (for profit or non-profit) could arrange to have bike lanes blocked to support their events/guests. Imagine if the University of Saint Thomas or Davanni’s wanted parking in the Cleveland Avenue bike lanes for their customers or students?

  6. John Charles Wilson

    Whoever said what they did to a 9-year-old for riding his bike should be ashamed of themselves. They clearly have no heart.

  7. Andrew

    I’m not shocked the kid was cussed at. Minnesota Nice has always been BS, and this is proof of it. I had worse done to me as a child in Saint Paul, namely getting off the school bus in my neighborhood and still having cars blast through even with the stop arm out and the dozens of flashing red lights that indicate all traffic must come to a halt in all directions. It was a small, four-way stop intersection, so there is no way anyone could have missed it. I often wonder how many people we got in trouble, because every kid on the bus knew the law and was paying attention every time a driver flouted the law. Between all those people on the bus, license plates and car makes were almost always accurately reported to the driver, including by kids like me nearly run down in the intersection by these jerks.

    On the other hand, knowing how the cops didn’t care back then and the way things are now, I wonder if our diligence really had any impact. My hatred of drivers did not start after I learned as an adult about the virtues of good urbanism. They began as a small boy getting off the school bus.

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