Everyone Walks at the State Fair

Marching Band

Photo courtesy of minnemom on Flickr

“People will walk a lot more than they say they will”—that’s the final observation in Bill Lindeke’s list from the State Fair.

I was curious how much I do walk at the State Fair, so this year I took my GPS along. How much did I walk? About seven and a half miles.

GPS track from the State Fair

For most of us, calling a friend to suggest they walk seven miles with us would meet swift rejection. But it’s pretty easy to convince a friend to go to the State Fair with you. I’d say that’s some strong support for Bill’s theory.

Granted, I am probably a more enthusiastic fair-goer than the average visitor, but it’s impossible to see the fair without traveling a significant distance by foot (or other human-scale transportation like scooter, stroller, wagon, wheelchair, piggyback…). Just from one end of the fairgrounds to the other is about two-thirds of a mile.

Since this year’s fair has ended and we must return to the drudgery of everyday life, I thought it might be helpful to translate State Fair distances into ordinary distances to help us through the transition. I’ve mapped out some favorite routes at the fair and paired them with an analogue elsewhere in the cities that is ripe for walking. May this give us a taste of what’s possible, given that people will walk a lot more than they say they will.

1.1 miles

State Fair:

Map of walking route through the State Fair

Transit Hub to Judson, then up to the North End

Not State Fair:

Map of walking route through downtown Minneapolis

Nicollet Mall transit station to the bridge at Loring Park


0.2 miles

State Fair:

Map of walking route through the State Fair

Sweet Martha’s Cookies to All-You-Can-Drink Milk Booth

Not State Fair:

Map of walking route on University Avenue

Thai Garden to Wonders Rolled Ice Cream


0.5 miles

State Fair:

Map of walking route through the State Fair

Circuit of the Mighty Midway and Adventure Park

Not State Fair:

Map of walking route around Como Zoo

Circuit of Como Zoo


1.2 miles

State Fair:

Map of walkingMap of walking route through the State Fair

Loop: Every Pronto Pup stand

Not State Fair:

Map of walking route around Highland Village

Loop: A high-density building in the Ford Site development, Fairview Health Clinic, Lifetime Fitness, Walgreens Pharmacy, Weight Watchers, Highland Park rec center, Chipotle, Allina Health Clinic


That’s all, folks!

Gophers Fairchild, the State Fair mascot

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota State Fair


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26 thoughts on “Everyone Walks at the State Fair

    1. Ian Young Post author

      I think that’s a big part of the Fair’s secret—it’s so engaging at every moment that you never feel the distance or time too acutely. And of course, that’s an important component of other walkable places too. The bustling pedestrian thoroughfare lined with small shops, dotted with trees and fountains, plied by buskers… beyond the basic utility of being able to buy things, those areas work because the environment offers you interesting things to experience, so time spent walking/standing/sitting never feels “wasted”.

  1. Brian

    People will walk a lot further for liesure/entertainment than they will on a daily basis. It is much easier to walk at the Fair with no vehicles. You still have to watch for the occasional service vehicle, but they move really slow.

    The same walk down Nicollet mall would feel like drudgery if done daily. There are lots of lights to wait at and cars to look out for. If it is summer and hot one might need to be dressed nicely for work instead of dressed in light clothes for the Fair.

    Most folks who would willingly walk seven miles at the Fair are not going to willingly three and a half miles each way to the grocery store unless they have no other option. A bike would be a much better option than walking.

    1. Ian Young Post author

      I agree with many of your points, but I think I interpret the conclusions a little differently 🙂

      I agree that walking is better in the service of leisure/entertainment than drudgery, but I think it’s sad that we implicitly assume that we shall be afforded leisure and entertainment only in certain tightly-regulated time slots. Don’t we deserve joy in every day of the week? What if the daily walk down Nicollet was a leisurely stroll, taking in the sights, greeting the regulars, stopping to sample a new food, rather than drudgery and a burden to be born as we frown at the ground, stamping impatiently at every red light?

      I also agree that walking is much more pleasant without vehicles around. You conclude that outside of the Fair we should have less walking; I conclude that outside of the Fair we should have fewer vehicles!

      1. Monte Castleman

        Nicollet Ave is never going to be the State Fair, and even if is it would be tiring and too time consuming to do it every day. Maybe people would do it once a month or once a week or whatever, but the rest of the time they’d want to get home to get chores done of spend time with their family.

        1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

          Counterpoint: Nicollet Avenue was once the most “state fair-like” street in the Twin Cities, full of diverse activity street life many shops people walking night life etc.

          1. Ian Young Post author

            I’m amused that everyone is objecting to my Nicollet Mall example – maybe because that’s the most familiar of the destinations I highlighted? I personally find Nicollet Mall (especially newly-reconstructed) a pretty pleasant place to walk. If anything, you should be criticizing my Highland Park route. Highland has a lot of destinations, but it currently kind of stinks for walking!

        2. Christa MChris Moseng

          If Nicollet regularly drew people visiting it once a month as a destination by being more State Fair-like, having just 1/30th of those people every day would still make it an more active and successful city-place/scene/destination than it currently is. Right now, I doubt it even draws people once a year, except as a way to get somewhere else, if they don’t already work directly adjacent.

          1. Dana DeMasterDana DeMaster

            I regularly walk to work year round. It’s not a walk that would normally be thought of as leisurely, beautiful, or interesting, as I walk four miles up West 7th Street. However, walking once a week or two year round I really get to enjoy seeing the subtle changes in the streetscape – weather, plants and trees, shops opening or shutting, different rhythms of people. I can appreciate my main street in a very microcosmic level. I do it in the morning because I have family and responsibilities after work, but am able to get up earlier on days I walk and no one else is awake anyway. West 7th at 6:30 a.m. in January is actually quite pretty.

            1. Dana DeMasterDana DeMaster

              Also, I think people generally have strange and inaccurate ideas about how long it takes to walk and how far distances are. This article does a nice job of illustrating distance in more concrete ways.

            2. Ian Young Post author

              Yes, absolutely! That undirected engagement with the world is one of the sublime joys of walking (and to a lesser degree, biking). Observing the world around me seems to satisfy some deep level of human psychology, plus it makes me more appreciative of my surroundings.

    2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      “The same walk down Nicollet mall would feel like drudgery if done daily”

      That used to be my commute, a mile or so, mostly down the Mall. It wasn’t drudgery, although I admit that I did tend to mix it up sometimes and go a different way, either for the heck of it or to stop for something.

  2. Monte Castleman

    Everyone will walk more than they say they will- if it’s the State Fair.

    I’m not sure why we keep trying to extrapolate lessons from the State Fair to society as a whole. It’s different because it is the State Fair and not real life. I went to the State Fair and walked a couple of miles, and paid top gouge prices for unique food, but that was once a year, in decent weather. And there’s no place other than the fair I had to be, so walking isn’t a waste of time. That doesn’t mean I’d be willing to walk a mile and half to and back from my local cute neighborhood grocery store in all kinds of weather conditions several times a week and then pay top gouge prices their rather than take my car to Walmart once a week for a week’s worth of groceries.

    For another example, a large subset of the people that refuse to ride buses will actually do it once a year- from a State Fair Park and Ride lot. That doesn’t mean they’re willing to do it to go to work and or go shopping on a daily basis, just that it’s OK to do it once a year.

    1. Ian Young Post author

      Why is it that you are willing to ride a bus and walk for miles once a year at the State Fair? There must be more to it than simply because it’s the State Fair.

      Is it the once-a-year-ness of it? Do you go home and say “that was horrible, I will need a whole year to recover before I am ready to endure that again”? I’m guessing not.

      More likely, people are willing to bus and walk at the State Fair because that is the best way to experience the State Fair. Bussing and walking could be the best way to experience the rest of our cities as well! It’s a matter of civic will and good planning to make that so, and if we make that so, the people will come.

      1. Monte Castleman


        1) The State Fair shuttle buses you can drive from your own garage directly to the park and ride lot rather than having to walk in all kinds of weather conditions, then the bus takes you directly to the fair. This is a similar idea in that there are a number of people that will ride commuter coaches or express buses from a park and ride to downtown, but won’t take a local bus to go shopping or whatever.

        2) I think “Rail Bias” also applies to the State Fair shuttles, the idea that people ride rail by choice but ride the bus only if they have to.

        3) Parking is pretty miserable at the State Fair if you don’t go early to get a space in the on-site lots. . You can always park on a ramp downtown but if you can’t get into a State Fair lot you either have to mortgage your house to pay for a private lot nearby or park on the street for free halfway to Stillwater.

        1. Ian Young Post author

          I suspect the other piece to the attractiveness of express busses is that they feel fast, while ordinary busses that stop every block feel slow, regardless of how much actual time you’re spending on either. Humans will wait happily for much longer periods of time if they don’t feel like they are waiting. Force them to stare at a blank wall and twiddle their thumbs and they’ll become unhappy pretty quickly.

          I further suspect that this phenomenon is related to what Bill mentioned in the top comment – that people will perceive distances as shorter if they are walking in an appealing environment. Keeping our brains happy is a bit more important that shaving off actual minutes.

      2. Brian

        People take the bus to Fair for two basic reasons: Cost of parking and lack of parking plus traffic. Buses essentially have their own private road to the Fair that bypasses most of the traffic.

        Park and ride is free versus $14 to park at the Fair. State Fair Express buses are $5 per person so for a couple still cheaper, and even if a family pays a bit more they aren’t paying for gas and sitting in traffic trying to find parking.

        1. Ian Young Post author

          Brian, I agree, and this is pretty much what I meant by calling the bus “the best way to experience the Fair”. It’s cheaper, faster, and more pleasant, so of course people choose to ride it!

          There’s no magic to it, though. If the bus is the cheapest, fastest, most pleasant way to experience other parts of life, people will also ride it to those parts. Unfortunately, right now we have gone to great lengths to accommodate the personal automobile as the prime mode of transportation, so bussing is often more expensive, slower, and less pleasant. There’s no reason that must be the case, though. It’s a choice we made / make.

    2. Tim

      Yeah, if someone tried to argue the inverse with “Well, pretty much everyone drives to the Renaissance Festival, so clearly, people don’t need transit to get to important places”, that would be ridiculous.

      Few people are opposed to using transit in any situation no matter what. It’s all about the trade-offs. When I’ve gone to other events at the Fairgrounds, most people drive, because it’s much easier.

    3. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      On Sunday I saw a large line of people waiting for the (free I think) shuttle bus at Gloria Dei church at on Highland Parkway at Snelling, with only a few around the corner at the A Line stop, which yes, costs a small amount of money but runs regularly. Meanwhile, when we took the A Line to the Fair, there was much confusion from people who don’t normally ride it.

      So, yeah, once a year exposure isn’t an automatic change in people’s choices, but it can be a start.

  3. Jack

    When I lived on Loring Park, I used to walk up Nicollet Mall everyday to my job in the Warehouse District. It would have been faster to take Hennepin, but I preferred the Nicollet route.

  4. Karen

    This isn’t just about the State Fair, but the fair is a really handy comparison that most Minnesotans have experienced and know how they feel about it.

    We could say, compare walks in St. Paul to walks in a real live, functional, every day used city, like SF or NYC or Paris or Amsterdam or Lima Peru, or Nagasaki (450000 people), it would make same point, that when walking routes are safe and pleasant and bustling, people will walk them more and enjoy it, find it makes their city a wonderful and highly rated, livable city.

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