Bentleyville Modifying Drive-Thru Tour After Vehicles Turned Away Opening Night

Volunteers and Duluth Police had to work though traffic hiccups with the new setup, but said all-in-all it was a successful start.

DULUTH, Minn.-Bentleyville Tour of Lights kicked off its new 2020 drive-thru season Saturday night, and before getting to the Christmas lights — vehicle headlights decorated the streets around Bayfront Festival Park, as crews worked through some challenges with the new setup.

“When it’s the very first time you’re attempting to do a drive-thru and it’s opening night there’s always gonna be a few hiccups here and there,” said Founder Nathan Bentley.

Despite those growing pains for Day 1 Bentley said changes are already underway with this first-ever drive-thru experience, brought on because of COVID-19 concerns.

He asks for the public’s patience as they work out the kinks.

According to Bentley, 500-700 vehicles came by for the opening Saturday. “We were estimated to be able to handle a lot more and I think we will be able to we’re just working through some logistics on how to move those cars through a little bit faster,” he said.

Cars started lining up around 2:30 in the afternoon he said, more than two hours before open. But for some the night ended before they could get to the lights.

“There was two plus hours of vehicles, potentially even more that were trying to get through before our closing time and with that number of people we would’ve been there into way past midnight and we weren’t in a position to do that,” said Bentley.

Bentleyville volunteers were aided by the Duluth Police Department. They all dealt with lines of cars stretching down Railroad Street and Garfield Avenue towards the Blatnik Bridge Saturday.

According to the department spokesperson they had to deploy eight officers to help with traffic — above and beyond the few who normally help out.

“There were some lessons to be learned there was some significant traffic but we eventually through working traffic control we were able to get that figured out and tonight it’s moving along quite smoothly,” Public Information Officer Ingrid Hornibrook said.

On Sunday, Hornibrook said there were no backups to either Railroad or Garfield, so only five officers were working traffic.

Volunteers are refining their timing, the founder said. On Monday signs will also go up letting people know when they have an hour, two hours, and three hours wait left in line.

Still there will be factors out of their control, said Bentley.

“Different people go through the park at different speeds we had some people in the park as little as 12 minutes and as long as 18 minutes so that can make a difference when you’re trying to move hundreds of cars through,” he said.

Still, the Mayor of Bentleyville said he thinks it went off fairly well. “I honestly don’t think it was that bad.”

“We did have to turn some people away but in the big picture with the hand that we’ve been dealt to turn Bayfront Park into a drive-thru and having hundreds of vehicles go through there, in a very safe manner in this pandemic I think we did a good job,” said Bentley.

And as the Tour of Lights continues illuminating the skyline through December 27th, Police ask the public remember why they came in the first place while they’re in line.

“Just be in the spirit of things and have a fun time in the car waiting to do this new experience of being able to drive through Bentleyville,” Hornibrook said.

And Bentley said he appreciates peoples’ understanding going forward. “Just please be patient with us.”

“It’s still only going to be our second night tonight and it’s still gonna take a few days for us to work out the kinks,” he said.

Yet the bumps in the road, Bentley said, did not hold back the holiday cheer from spreading Saturday. “We had numerous people that were honking, and not out of control but they were just appreciative.”

“They would wave with great big smiles on their face, a few windows went down and said thank you, thank you, thank you to our volunteers,” he said. “It was just a pleasant night overall.”

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