Monday Blues: Riding to Fairplex

A couple summer ago, maybe three, the family had made our annual trip to the Los Angeles County Fair. It was lunch time and we were sharing a table with a man who had ridden his bike there. How did we know he had ridden there? It was right next to him at the table. This in itself was a shock to me, as I found it surprising that the Fair would let someone wheel their bikes around, weaving through the crowds, like that. It was his first visit to the Fair, so we might have expected his thoughts to revolve around the underwhelming price of Fair fare, or the overwhelming nature of the crowds. Truth be known I think those did creep into the lunch-time talk, but what sticks out most in my mind, was the bike talk. The first time, he said, would be the last time. Not only were the streets around the fairgrounds beyond unwelcoming, but the staff were unhelpful in suggesting a place where he would feel comfortable locking and leaving his bike.

NHRA Motorsports Museum image

If you read here with any kind of regularity you will know that two weekends in the past was SpookyCross weekend, with two days of racing and other bicycle related activities at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds, commonly called the Fairplex. After driving to the first day of that event (Saturday), I decided to leave the car at home for the Sunday, and instead ride over to the fairgrounds on my pseudo-cx bike. At the time it seemed like a good idea, the conscientious thing to do. Of course, it was the conscientious thing to do, even in hindsight. But! But, should anyone think of conducting a poll to find the most bicycle unfriendly campus of Los Angeles County, I will be casting my vote for the Fairplex.

First, lets consider the ride itself, the journey to the Fairplex - admittedly this is beyond the direct control of the Fairplex because they don't manage those streets leading to and from their gates. Even so, before one sets foot within the fairgrounds, one must first get there. None of the streets surrounding the fairgrounds contain a bike lane. Further, none of the streets leading to the fairgrounds contain a bike lane. One of those streets leading to the site, Puddingstone Drive is, per the Metro Bike Map, a designated bicycle route. The only people who might be aware of the designation are those who have seen the map. Why is this? Because there are no signs, nor markings of any kind, anywhere along the length of Puddingstone Drive indicating its special status. As you know Class III bike routes are, in all practical measures, no different than any undesignated street anyway. In other words, mostly useless.

What about the surrounding access streets? There are four - Fairplex Drive, White Avenue, Arrow Highway, and McKinley Avenue. The first three are essentially high-speed mini-highways, designed to move great quantities of motor vehicles to and from as quickly as possible. Speed limits are 45 mph, and there are no amenities for anyone who might wish to travel them by different means. I have mentioned Fairplex before; it is hands-down my least favorite street around. As it runs alongside the NHRA speedway, the city should just change its name to Speedway Drive - the descriptive name would more accurately reflect the way people drive along it. Recently, a local rider was clipped by a vehicles' side view mirror while riding home along Fairplex Drive; on two occasions I have been passed within inches by drivers who couldn't be bothered to consider my safety by, horror of horrors, changing lanes. But Mike, you say, Fairplex does have that Class I bike path. True, the half mile long, wide sidewalk does run along the worst of Fairplex Drive, but drops you back onto it at either end. From that point, you are on your own.

Both Arrow Highway (that name itself should give away its bike-friendliness rating), and White Avenue are three lanes wide and fast (each direction) - perfectly unwelcoming, in other words. McKinley is the exception to the other three. This street runs along the west side of the Fairplex, borders the Ganesha Hills area of the city of Pomona, and has a 25 mph speed limit. Further, several gates open off McKinley giving access to the Fairgrounds. Sounds pretty nice, and while it certainly beats the other options, lets face it, how many drivers adhere to that speed limit? I suggest that 50% would be optimistic. Judging by some comments of local residents I have read, this one cyclist is not the only person to notice.

For my Sunday morning ride to the fairgrounds I took the McKinley option, having first ridden down Garey Avenue. Considering the day and time this route was quite reasonable. For me, the real problem began once I reached the Fairplex. "You need to walk your bike from this point." Those were the words of the security guard at Gate 1. He had seen me riding up from inside his guard shack with the smoked windows. I kind of suspected something like this would happen - the previous day other Fairplex staff had attempted to corral riders within a confined area of the parking lot. Never-the-less I still had to get from the gate to the venue at the race track. A wide gulf of asphalt parking lot lay between me and my destination. With a perfectly functional bike, I didn't see any reason to walk the distance, and once around the corner and out of sight I remounted. The world didn't come to an end, drivers of cars didn't suddenly collide with one another at the sight of me riding in their midst.

It did prove too much for yet another staff officer, however, and as I drew closer to the end of my journey, with just a long straight to go I noticed her pointing in my direction. She was still too far away for me to hear anything she was saying, but as I rode closer it became clear, I was the focus of her rather irate attention:

"You can't ride your bike there! You have to walk your bike!"
"Bike riders must stay in this area only!" and she pointed to an area within some orange cones (an area immediately against the grandstand, and a second area set aside for racer parking). I threw a questioning arm into the air and gave her a wave of disgust. With business to tend to I didn't feel like arguing a point which would have fallen on deaf ears anyway - "I assume drivers must get out and walk their cars as well" - so just rode on to the race. Realizing, perhaps, that her non-sensical war cries would have no effect on me, this staff person turned her attentions on some other unwary rider who had strayed into her field of vision; my ears picked up the unmistakable "you can't ride there" cry of warning. If that were only the end of this story. But no, upon leaving the venue in the afternoon there were yet more dire warnings concerning my ability to perceive the safest navigable route out of the fairgrounds. I can only wonder what expletives the lurker in the guard shack thought as I rode past and on out the gate.

I am not sure if this belligerence was due to some misguided concern for my welfare, or if it was simply a way of "getting back" at me for displaying the nerve to ride to Fairplex and thus avoid paying their ten-buck parking fee. Lest you think this is nothing more than paranoid thinking on my part, consider this: The Fairplex is home to the Winternationals drag races, home of the Auto Club Speedway, home to the NHRA museum. While there is nothing inherently wrong with any of that, it does further enhance the image that this is a car place, and bikes be damned. Further, there is something wrong with the complete lack of bike lanes leading to the fairgrounds, as well as the glaring lack of bicycle parking on the grounds itself. With those massive seas of motor vehicle parking surrounding, and breaking upon, the fair island at the center, you would think Fairplex managers could find at least some little space for bike parking. To the contrary, in all my years of Fair-going, I am yet to notice a single rack. Not one. Anywhere on site.

The official Fairplex Code of Conduct (yes there is such a thing) specifically prohibits bicycle riding, skateboarding, roller blading, moped riding, Segway riding or skating of any kind on Fairplex grounds. Honestly, during the month-long County Fair season, this is not unreasonable. Anyone who has driven to the Fair knows that those parking lots turn into madhouses with drivers jockeying for position and attempting to find the perfect space. Never mind that this is a glaring example of inefficiency. I would not want to ride across the lots at those times. Thus, with those hazards, and that policy, you would think there might be some form of secure bike parking near to the entry points. But no. Not one. So, while you can ride there and though, depending on which route you take you may be placing your safety in the hands of Zeus (or what ever god you choose) to a greater or lesser degree, once you arrive you are pretty well screwed.

So here is a question to finish up: What are your own experiences, good or bad? They don't even need to be with the Los Angeles County facility; maybe you know of somewhere else that does it right. Look, I get that at least for the foreseeable future, county fairs need to accommodate people traveling long distances. Right now, today, that means private automobiles (the Pomona Metrolink station is not far away, and I don't think it would be too difficult to construct a respectable bike route/path linking it to the fairgrounds). But, at the same time, is it also necessary to exclude other means of individual transport?

Blue: A color, a mood or emotion, a genre of music. Tune in each Monday for another installment of the Blues, with a cycling twist.