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.