Traffic On A Stick – Creating a Better Transit Experience at the Minnesota State Fair

Key Learnings on Creating a Transit Center at the Minnesota State Fair

Guest Post by Bryant Ficek, PE, PTOE, Vice-President at Spack Consulting

Deep-Fried-Olives-SqThe Minnesota State Fair starts on August 27, 2015, representing the end of summer in Minnesota. As some of you might know, there are 60+ foods on-a-stick available throughout the fairgrounds (even olives on a stick), 35 miles of hot dogs are sold, 26,000 gallons of milk are served, and about 15,377 yards of manure (348 garbage truck loads) are produced by the farm animals each year (this and more trivia provided here).

In addition to the animals, food, and fun, the State Fair represents hundreds of thousands of people (1.8 million over 12 days in 2014) descending upon the 320 acres site in the middle of the Twin Cities. As you can imagine, that many people moving to one spot could lead to a lot of frustration before popping your first cheese curd.

A number of years ago, I provided a review of existing traffic operations around the fair along with initial recommendations on potential improvements (I completed this work while employed at TKDA and Traffic Data Inc. assisted with the traffic counting needs). Besides being a very fun project to work on, I spent multiple paid days at the fair eating food while observing traffic operations, it was interesting to see how everything came together – the early morning crowd trying to get good parking spots, lots and lots of buses carrying visitors from all over the state, vendor and garbage activities during the overnight “closed” time, and the farm animal switch-outs.

One thought about the fair traffic is how some of the recommendations for improvement are similar to what you might suggest for a school.  In broad terms, here are the recommendations from that study:

  • Separate the pedestrian-car-transit activities to reduce/eliminate conflicts
  • Expand bicycle facilities, particularly parking opportunities
  • Continue to encourage transit opportunities and enhance the facilities
  • Separate the parking and ticket purchases to reduce entry times associated with counting the number of people, making sure all have tickets, and the physical transaction time
  • Make the parking fee in multiples of $5 to reduce time needed to make change

Buses at Minnesota State FairIn my view, the Minnesota State Fair has done a great job consistently improving the experience and that extends to recognizing the travel to the Fair. A new transit area has improved the facilities where you exit and enter the buses as well as eliminated the need for transit users to cross a busy street just to get to the front door.  Parking has been separated from ticket purchases so each car pays one fee upon entry and then tickets are purchased separately at another gate. Several bicycle parking areas are provided around the site. Park and ride lots with dedicated buses are provided close to the Fair, are free and heavily advertised. It may not be perfect (and few events with this magnitude of people are), but operations have gotten better with less congestion.

Previously, I used the free buses that stop close to my house. This year, I’ll be trying out biking in with the family. FYI, the Italian Dessert Nachos and Sriracha Dog look interesting as new food for 2015.

Photos courtesy of the Minnesota State Fair – http://www.mnstatefair.org/

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