For bicycle advocates, the intersection of sustainability and health is right up our alley. Sustainability and health: that is really what cycling is all about. Plus the fun, of course. So while the celebration is in progress, the bicycle advocates shall step aside quietly and whisper a few words of disappointment. They are disappointed that the group which is really responsible for this achievement, the UCLA Health Sustainability Committee, has chosen not to engage in the area of transportation. Sure, transportation is not the only path to sustainability, but encouraging more people to use active modes like cycling ticks many boxes in any green calculation. In addition, the evidence for the health benefits of cycling fits nicely with the healing mission of a hospital. Given that today more than half of the population in the US is diabetic or pre-diabetic, it is rather surprising that a major health care company, "The Best in the West", did not get the memo about how the bicycle can connect health and sustainability. It is never easy to install solar panels, to save water and energy, to recycle or to re-use, but it is apparently really hard for our health care company to allow the facilities people to contribute to the healing mission, "one patient at a time." But that is exactly what is needed today.
So why has UCLA Health shown so little interest in transportation issues? Why has the committee ignored requests by the UCLA Bicycle Academy to present at their meetings? The argument was: "The other fellow does it." That "other fellow" is UCLA Transportation. Now UCLA Transportation indeed performs sterling work for cyclists and transit users on the Westwood campus itself, but the Santa Monica Hospital is strictly outside the remit of that department. The UCLA Bicycle Master Plan only covers the Westwood campus. Sorry, the other fellow can't do it.
As UCLA Health expands to become a major health care company all over LA County, it is no longer good enough to point to a campus department in Westwood and expect them to deal with all the traffic you are generating. UCLA Health needs to own the traffic to and from all its locations: to encourage, educate, nudge and reward employees and clients to drive less. One way to do this is for the UCLA Health System to create its own Bicycle Master Plan to cover all its locations in LA County, including Santa Monica.
In the meantime, leaving transportation to the "other fellow" has led to a few regrettable outcomes:
- During a major building project on campus along Tiverton Avenue, UCLA Health made little effort to make space for pedestrians and cyclists in a safe and welcoming manner. The space planner for UCLA Health showed little concern for the fact that prior to the year-long closure for cycling, Tiverton was a designated bike route into campus. "We don't care, get over it" he seemed to say.
- The main entrance to the Santa Monica Hospital on 16th Street has an elaborate valet parking station for those who drive, but no bicycle parking.
- A 2014 proposal to fund a planning study (by Stantec) of potential improvements to the bicycle connection between the Westwood and Santa Monica Hospitals was rejected by a UCLA Health budget committee.
- Staircases are a good example of healthy transportation. Show us a good staircase in a UCLA Health building and we show you ten which are difficult to find and awful to use.
- When Santa Monica Breeze Bikes were looking for a corporate sponsor, many thought UCLA Health would be a perfect match. The health care company was approached repeatedly, but Marketing was not interested to see its logo on these bikes. For any public health expert, putting together a local health care company and cycling would have been a marriage made in heaven. But the marketing expert, who probably still believes that everybody drives in LA, decided that bicycles are too risque for her brand.
Nobody wants to spoil a well deserved celebration. Enjoy! Well done! But the company which owns the Santa Monica Hospital will unwittingly do great harm to its own brand unless it actively offers alternatives to driving for its employees and its clients. With engaged leadership from the top of the organisation, the UCLA Health Sustainability Committee will reap many more awards. In the year 2016, the year when diabetes affected more than half of the population, it is truly a scandal that a health care company would design, build or use premises which lack high quality (APBP standard) bicycle facilities. The fact that this health care company is associated with a world-class university makes this scandal even more painful. The time has come for UCLA Health to take sustainable transportation really seriously, in a rigorous and consistent manner, precisely because many evidence-based studies have shown its pervasive health benefits. Now is the time for more than pretty designs.
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See what they can do in rainy Seattle: