Editor’s note: This is the fourth story in a series we’re calling Let’s (St)roll There, describing ways to get to unusual or out-of-the-way places by foot, bus, train or bike.
Many people took it to be a fact of life: If you want to dress up, see comedy shows, peruse arts shops and enjoy a turkey leg with some mead, then you were going to have to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic for an hour waiting to get into the parking lot at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. And for many years, the only viable ways of getting there were to infringe upon local residents or to bike all the way.
But this year, with pressure from Scott County to alleviate the traffic problem, Ren Fest organizers started charging for parking and expanded their park-and-ride offerings. And Hark! One of the park-and-ride locations is well connected to transit, at the Burnsville Transit Station. From downtown Minneapolis, it is a simple matter of hopping on the Orange Line and zooming down to Burnsville; from St. Paul, you’ll likely make your way to the Mall of America (via the A Line bus to the Blue Line train, for example) before transferring to one of several MVTA routes. Let’s follow one princess on her journey.
Our voyage begins at the Franklin Avenue Blue Line station, headed north into downtown. Most activities at the festival begin around 10 a.m., so we set out at 8:30. For our fellow transit riders, there was no mistaking our destination: “You must be going to Ren Fest!” we heard several times. Downtown, we met up with our friend James, who took the Green Line from Midway. Together, we boarded the Orange Line and left our haters and rivals behind. By 9:40 we (along with one other Orange Line passenger going to Ren Fest!) were in Burnsville, boarding a shuttle that would take us non-stop to the festival grounds.
The park-and-ride had plenty of MVTA staff on hand to help direct the many passengers who don’t ride transit on a regular basis. And there were many, many passengers! Almost every seat on the bus was filled, though we didn’t have to resort to standing room.
As we approached the festival grounds on US-169, it was amazing to see absolutely no traffic on the highway. Once we arrived on site, our bus operator expertly zoomed past the rows and rows of parked cars to drop us off at the King’s Gate. The parking lot was between one-third and one-half as full as Ian had typically seen in previous years. Verily, a success story for charging the right price for parking and providing good mass transit options!
You could practically hear the jousting from our departure point. We saw one lone bike rack, patiently waiting for a rider to drop off their steed at the entrance.
This was Stina’s first year to attend the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, even though she has lived here for three delightful summers. And the reason why she had not gone yet was obvious: She did not want to drive, did not want to park and did not want to be a part of the traffic problem.
We cannot begin to describe the joy in seeing other Festival goers decked out in their armor, pointed elf ears, glittery fairy wings and swashbuckling pirate shirts on the bus with us! It also made us wonder — maybe, just maybe — whether some first-time riders were on our bus from Burnsville that day. It’s experiences like this that turn the bus-curious folks into lifetime transit users, seeing the bus as easy, affordable, accessible and also really fun.
Around 1 p.m. we were joined by two friends who did the true park-and-ride option, and they (along with everyone else we have surveyed) agreed that taking the bus made the entire experience more pleasant.
The standing-room-only ride home was just as lovely as the morning trek from Burnsville. After a full day of walking in a pleasant pedestrian environment, there is nothing sweeter than taking a seat on transit and letting a professional ferry you to your destination. Little princesses and youths with foam swords, adults chatting about their favorite comedy bit from Puke and Snot, and maybe some pals who enjoyed a few tankards of ale all got home safe and sound after a day of old-timey merrymaking.
It was like a page out of a transit-themed fairytale: They avoided the dangers of the traffic dragon, explored the kingdom, made new friends and lived happily ever after.