The Kentucky State Fair (KSF) begins today, but good luck riding your bike there. Following the KSF’s fumble on bike parking that blew up last year, the fair board is on track to repeat many of the mistakes that have given the it a reputation as bike-unfriendly as far away as Dallas. Like last year, bikes will not be allowed inside the fairgrounds’ gates and the fair offers no incentives for cyclists to attend like other states do, causing jeers from local bike advocates. Which made us surprised to see the KSF proudly declare on its Facebook page:
Grab your helmets and bells, we are a bike friendly facility! In addition to bicycle racks at every gate, the Kentucky State Fair Bicycle Corral is located at Gate 4 in Lot H. The two new bicycle racks at Gate 6 off Preston are designed to meet the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals national standards.
We spoke with Bicycling for Louisville and Metro Louisville’s Bike Louisville to figure out why significant changes weren’t made since last year and what could be done to make things better next year.
When an internal memo surfaced last year exposing the anti-bike sentiments of the KSF, local cyclist and blogger Kirk Kandle asked officials why bikes weren’t permitted at the fair. Amanda Storment, vice president of media relations for the fair board, said it would be unsafe, as cyclists pose a risk to pedestrians. She reiterated the same claim of dangerous cyclists to the Courier-Journal earlier this month, which Bike Louisville’s transportation planning administrator Dirk Gowin refuted. Bicycling for Louisville board member Amanda Fuller agreed. She said biking through the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center’s 19,000-car parking lot is no more dangerous than biking anywhere else in the city. ”It’s no more dangerous than riding your bike in a shopping mall parking lot. Or on Crittenden Drive, a state road,” Fuller said. “It’s ridiculous they’re citing a liability reason for not allowing bikes.” Requests from Bicycling for Louisville to see documentation of the state’s liability concerns were denied.
Gowin told Broken Sidewalk there’s nothing the city can do to force the fairgrounds to provide better access to bikes since it’s a state agency on state-owned property, but his agency is committed to working with them to find a solution.
Why Little Has Changed
After last year’s bike parking disaster, the Kentucky State Fair ignored requests from Metro Louisville and Bicycling for Louisville to set up meetings to fix the situation. ”Bike Louisville tried to reach out to them last year,” Gowin said, but his emails were never returned. “We were never able to be at the table with them,” he said. Amanda Fuller had the same experience. ”Bicycling for Louisville started to contact them in December and January but we were ignored for months and months,” she said. “All we wanted was a meeting to sit down and discuss this.” After this long period of silence, the group received 24-hour notice in early July that a meeting was being held and the group scrambled to attend.
Once Bike Louisville and Bicycling for Louisville did get a chance to meet with the Kentucky State Fair, Gowin said he was encouraged that officials were willing to reach out more this year than last. “Last year we offered to help and they didn’t accept our invitation.”
A letter from the Bicycling for Louisville Board of Directors described the group’s requests from the KSF. Among them:
We requested that they provide bike parking that complies with Louisville Metro’s own bicycle parking ordinance (LDC 9.2), which requires parking at locations as close as a car can drive to the entrances to buildings, and when they declined we asked them to disclose what in their liability prevents them from allowing bikes to operate as vehicles within the Fairground gates. They declined to respond to this request as well…We offered to provide valet bike parking next to the Tram Stop by East Hall, accessible by gate 6. (They declined)…We believe that this was not enough of a good faith effort to work on the problem of safe bicycle access to the State Fair. After all, in Indiana they discount $1 off the admission price to encourage people to ride to their state fair, and they provide valet bike parking. Several other state fairs welcome people on bikes including Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska and Texas.
Why The Fair’s Plan Isn’t Good Enough
What is being provided this year are free, non-compliant bike racks outside each gate that are often difficult to securely lock bikes to. That also means means a long walk or tram ride through the massive car-parking area to get to the actual fair. A bike corral is offered at Gate 4 accessible from Crittenden Drive. Bike Louisville will also install two racks at Gate 6 mounted on concrete bases from the KSF that meet Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals national standards accessible from Preston Highway. None of the racks will have security, but they are being placed within view of ticket booths and attendants are asked to keep an eye on them. A special ticket booth will be set up at Gate 6 to accommodate pedestrians. The fair board has also agreed to meet with Bike Louisville next January to discuss future improvements.
Both Bike Louisville and Bicycling for Louisville said these changes aren’t acceptable long-term solutions. Gowin noted he considers these accommodations as temporary, adding, “That’s all we’re going to see this year.”
For cyclists planning to attend the fair, Gowin said his analysis shows Gate 6 is currently the best, safest option because of the higher quality bike racks, fewer cars, and better pedestrian environment, although you will have to walk some distance to a tram stop. The State Fair’s website says it believes the bike corral at Gate 4 off Crittenden Drive and located on a tram line is the best option for bikes. Gowin was concerned, however, that both Crittenden Drive and Preston Highway could present safety issues for cyclists.
But when it comes down to it, the KSF’s claim that bicycles are dangerous to pedestrians is simply false. It’s one of the most basic laws that, except for children, cyclists don’t ride on sidewalks. Bikes will be in the slow-moving parking-lot lanes like every other vehicle, not plowing through the midway. Parking lots generally have slower speeds and more cautious drivers than a typical street like Crittenden Drive, so riding through the parking lot should be especially safe for cyclists.
But for now, bikes are considered a menace, a perception that will hopefully change soon. After all, what are we going to tell the kids at the 4-H Club during their bike rodeo at the fair or the adorable Alexa M., winner of Kentuckiana Air Education’s (KAIRE) 2011 Kentucky State Fair Bike Contest when they decide they want to use their new bike skills to pedal to the fair?
Cyclists shouldn’t be treated as second-class citizens by the state when, in fact, their presence helps to offset the car-parking space crunch, alleviate congestion, fight obesity brought on by the fair’s fried twinkies, and generally improve the attitudes of those attending who didn’t have to sit in traffic. There’s really no downside to promoting cyclists to attend that fair in a big way.
How Bike Access Can Be Improved
At the most basic level, Bicycling for Louisville simply wants the Kentucky State Fair to comply with Metro Louisville’s standard codes for bike parking that require equal treatment for bikes and cars, allowing cyclists to park at least as close to the entrance as a motorist using a bike rack that reasonably protects their vehicle. “It’s not about the quality of the parking. It’s about the access,” Fuller said.
But that should only be the starting point. Prioritized parking, reduced attendance rates, and even a dedicated gate for pedestrian and cyclists could help promote a culture of biking in Louisville all while helping solve the parking-lot-space-problem at the fairgrounds.
Bicycling for Louisville has proposed reopening the Bradley Avenue entrance at the north edge of the fairgrounds to pedestrians and cyclists, as shown in the rendering above. The gate was barred and the railroad crossing eliminated many years ago, but Fuller said the ease of access Bradley Avenue provides would be ideal for cyclists. “We recognize it as a long-shot, but we like the idea that people can come to the fairgrounds on safe, neighborhood streets,” Fuller said.
Dirk Gown said the Bradley Street entrance is not a viable option since opening a rail crossing is a difficult proposition which could require closing three other crossings elsewhere. He said once a crossing is closed, a rail company will fight to keep it from being reopened again.
Another option is reopening the closed Manning Road entrance just south of Gate 6 as a dedicated pedestrian and bicycle entry point to the fairgrounds accessed from Preston Highway. Gowin said this option is more feasible than Bradley Avenue, but both Gowin and Fuller agreed Preston Highway is not a well designed corridor for cyclists and could present safety problems.
Whether or not a dedicated cyclist entrance is created, existing gates should also provide better sidewalks and bike paths that don’t require cyclists to sit in the toxic perfume of idling cars waiting to get into the fairgrounds. Imagine riding your bike into the entryway at Gate 4 photographed below full of cars.
Fortunately, Bike Louisville and Bicycling for Louisville will continue to work for improved conditions at the fairgrounds. “They still have a ways to go in terms of what makes good bike parking,” Gowin said. “My target is to have a more permanent parking solution in place next year. We’ve got a long way to go and it’s going to take some time.”
Meanwhile, another Facebook group is calling for a continued boycott of the Kentucky State Fair until it provides reasonable bike parking and access. You can also take TARC to the fair if you’d like to avoid parking, but you’ll still have to sit in traffic with all the cars.