Tuesday, April 5, 2016


Congratulations! UCLA Medical Center receives the Sustainable Quality Award 2016 from the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce. Santa Monica residents are excited to see that our hospital is working so hard to reduce its impact on the environment.

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: 



Wednesday, December 2, 2015

UCLA Health Continued (3) The first steps [...] have already been made and further progress is inevitable.

Olga Yokoyama, Distinguished Professor at UCLA, has shared with us a letter written to UCLA Health CEO Mazziotta and laid out the arguments for doing more and doing it now. In her letter she speaks about her personal experience using a bicycle, and the obstacles she has faced in the past.
I made a lonely case whenever there was a bicycle parking problem, including the management at the Faculty Center, whom I told that the Faculty Center needs to have a bike rack near the entrance to prevent people like me from parking my bike next to a traffic sign across from the Faculty Center (and getting in trouble with campus police). It was a distinctly odd topic to bring up at the time, and the fact that it was a graying female faculty member raising it made it only more difficult for those addressed to respond.
This bike rack has now been planted and is well used, not least due to her insistance. She also refers to the "gray couple happily biking" that is used to advertise the UCLA Health System. She encourages him to lead a concerted effort to make such happy cycling a reality for more people and she concludes "I do feel optimistic about the world when I imagine Westwood full of pedestrians and bicyclists, with only an occasional car passing by."
A lot more needs to be done to make all the locations of UCLA Health in Los Angeles attractive for cyclists, and to provide programming and education for staff at the hospitals. The resources currently given to transportation services are too limited and the standards are not exactly professional. Close communication between the users, well trained experts, and the health providers, and transportation services is a must if the planning is to be done to the appropriate professional standards.
Thank you, Olga. Please let us know when you hear back from Dr Mazziotta.

Image linked to pdf

Monday, November 16, 2015

UCLA Health Continued (2): Questions for the Chief Marketing Officer

Pattie Cuen
Chief Marketing Officer 
UCLA Health System 

Dear Pattie Cuen, 

We have been in touch previously about a Community Health Program featured in Vital Signs. I was glad that you were able to schedule one presentation about the health benefits of cycling in 2011. 

The UCLA Bicycle Academy would now like to express our disappointment that you have not taken up a sponsorship request from Santa Monica regarding their bike-share system. We have been told that your office had been contacted repeatedly to consider if the UCLA Health logo should appear on 500 Breeze bikes which are now operating. As you know, UCLA Health operates a hospital and a large number of medical offices in Santa Monica. Your support for a public transportation system which has, according to CDC experts, significant health benefits, would seem an excellent fit, both regionally and because of your commitment to community health. Why were you not able to take advantage of this opportunity? Has there been some administrative barrier that prevented you from pursuing this? Has someone whispered something bad about bicycles? 

The corporate mission of UCLA Health is to increase market share among those who need medical help. But you also have a responsibility to enable the public to lead active and healthy lives with fewer visits to the doctor. Putting your brand onto bicycles advances this community benefit and connects your brand with a young and trendy audience who represent an urban, "car-light" lifestyle of the future. I know we are in agreement because of this memorable image, which so effectively presents the rejuvenating abilities of the bicycle. 

It so happens that the City of Los Angeles is also planning to launch its own bike share system soon. They too are looking for a major sponsorship partner. I want to encourage you to reach out to them and work towards placing the stamp of an enlightened health provider on the most healthy mode of transportation. 

News today is that America's obesity problem is still growing, up from 34 % to 37%. This may sound like a economic opportunity for some in the health business. I hope you hear it as a different challenge: How could the UCLA Health brand support the active living arguments which flourish inside public health programs around the country, including the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA, where you teach healthcare marketing. 

Please share with us the reasons why you declined the Breeze Bike request so that we can work towards removing such obstacles in the future. 

We have copied Dr Mazziotta because we are currently discussing with him a more rigorous approach about how UCLA Health sites can support and increase the numbers of those who do not drive. We believe marketing should play an important part in this conversation. 


Dr Michael Cahn 
Secretary, UCLA Bicycle Academy