Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Concerns arise over OHSU’s treatment of bike commuters

Posted by on May 10th, 2006 at 8:05 am

[Unsecure bikes.]

A group of bike advocates have been working with Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) for over a year to improve conditions for bike commuters at the hilltop campus. However, despite clear evidence of the problem they have been “systematically rebuffed” by management and the former head of their Bike Commuters Group calls OHSU’s actions and policies regarding bike commuters “irresponsible.”

They cite OHSU’s inability to provide secure, long-term bike parking as a major problem that deters bike commuters, encourages bike theft, and runs counter to school’s mission as a health institution. Hannah Cross, the former head of OHSU’s Bike Commuter program, recently left her post in part because of her extreme frustration with management over these issues. According to Cross:

“OHSU reports that 5 to 7% of employees bike to work, which means that parking is needed for over 600 bicycles, yet the number of spaces that qualify as “secure, long-term” is only about 100. Those 100 secure parking spaces are full to overflowing on a daily basis.”

Cross conducted a survey and found that because of inadequate parking facilities, 23% of OHSU bike commuters disobey campus policy and park their bikes in their offices. She also found that 28% park in other “weird places” like bathrooms, closets or at the Veterans hospital, “because they have better facilities.”

She has complained and lobbied to the OHSU Parking and Transportation Office for three and a half years and has seen, “almost no progress.”

Cross is not alone in her concerns. Jessica Roberts, Metro Area Advocate for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, posted this plea for help in the Portland Bike Forums back in February.

Also joining the fight has been architect and bike parking expert Rick Browning. Browning visited a friend in the hospital and was appalled at the bike parking conditions. He initiated the advocacy effort and helped organize Cross and her colleagues. But after trying to meet with decision makers, Cross says they were “ignored, and told to talk with middle managers.” Frustrated and making no progress, Browning wrote a letter to Congressman Earl Blumenauer hoping to put the issue on his radar screen.

One bright spot are the 32 bike lockers OHSU installed last year. However, Cross and others are quick to point out that these lockers were only installed because the Oregon Nurse’s Association (the strongest union on the Hill) wrote the lockers into their labor contract. According to Browning, “It was due to union bargaining power, not OHSU being nice.”

In a letter published in yesterday’s Portland Tribune, Cross and her colleagues estimate that for about $100,000, “quality bicycle storage could be provided for all bicyclists.” Cross thinks that in light of recent cost estimates surrounding the aerial tram project, this amount seems like a drop in the bucket.

I have contacted OHSU Parking Manager Angela Timmen but have yet to hear back from her. I will post her comments as soon as I can. UPDATE: 7/15/06. I went on a tour of bike parking facilities with OHSU reps. Report coming soon.

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  • Ethan May 10, 2006 at 8:12 am

    Anyone who rides up that hill every day to work deserves a good parking spot, and perhaps a gold medal.

    With all the money they have had to spend on huge parking garages over the years, I am amazed that OHSU would not jump at any opportunity to promote alternative transportation, just from a simple cost/benefit standpoint.

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  • Matt Picio May 10, 2006 at 8:36 am

    What about all the tram money? Doesn’t state law require a percentage of any transportation project to benefit bikes / pedestrians? I seem to recall that being in there somewhere…

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  • Curt Dewees May 10, 2006 at 9:31 am

    And speaking of the new tram: Does anyone know if there will be bike access to the tram, as on MAX trains and Tri-Met busses? I would like a definitive answer on this from the folks in charge. Maybe I will write to Sam Adams and find out.

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  • elljay May 10, 2006 at 9:42 am

    I heard a rumor that the Tram was going to be “people only.” Regardless, now’s the time for OHSU and the SoWa developers to be thinking about (and implementing) the appropriate quality and quantity of bike parking at the new South Waterfront clinic as well as “on the hill.”

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  • sherry May 10, 2006 at 11:15 am

    My friend who works at OHSU, and who is not a car driver, says that when her clinic relocates to the south waterfront, she will have to take a bus from southeast portland, to the streetcar, and then take the streetcar to work, as there are no planned bus lines to service the south waterfront.

    I hope that OHSU has planned to provide adequate bike parking at the south waterfront. Not everyone bikes to work, but maybe more people would if the commute was bike friendly and secure bike parking was offered. Especially since it sounds like it’s going to be a hassle taking public transportation.

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  • Garlynn May 10, 2006 at 11:31 am

    I sure hope that the tram is NOT people-only. Perhaps it could have a common-sense policy (i.e. if the tram is full of people, the bike needs to wait for the next one), in combination with bicycle hooks to hang bikes on board and a buttload of bicycle parking at the downhill station.

    However, this report about bicycle parking at OHSU, while appalling, is also to be expected. OHSU is a backwards institution that only looks out for the interests of its upper management. Why would it provide parking for bicyclists when its upper management drives luxury cars to and from work?

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  • Gil May 10, 2006 at 11:31 am

    When ITG relocated from 1st ave to 5 ave, I went into action. I gathered consensus from bike commuters (16 commuters put a deposit down on a locker while it was still in the “if only” stage), got space from the building, got the ITG exec council to agree to pay for bike locker rental for bike commuters. I researched bike lockers, but then discovered that the city had 16 lockers they would administer if I could find the relocation costs ($700) to move them to the new building. I wound up leaving ITG and didn’t see it through, but all that was left was for the building to sign an agreement with the city and a manager to get John Kenagy to sit still long enough to sign off on it officially.

    There was definite foot dragging by the building. They’re in the real estate business, not the bike locker renting business (even though this could have been a revenue producer). There was foot dragging from some managers I was dealing with. What did they care? They didn’t bike. Plus it was a complicated issue, dealing with the city and the many other issues I touched on. For all I know, this is still a work in progress. OHSU measures time in years, not days or even months.

    I felt like I had a home run on my hands. So what happened? I can imagine 10 different scenarios without thinking too hard. The main thing is there is no real leverage for bike parking (the “pro” argument that is so obvious to bike commuting hippies like me is apparently too complicated to grasp or not compelling enough for the average (add insulting label here)). Everyone is too busy to deal with their workload as it is without becoming bike parking evangelists on top of the rest.

    This issue pisses me off so much that if I don’t let it go, I’m either going to get fired, have a heart attack or quit like Hannah apparently did.

    OHSU is a great place to work. It’s not perfect and I certainly will continue to support efforts to improve bike parking. But as Hannah and others have discovered, even when you do everything the right way, the bike parking issue is DOA. On the bright side, car commuters are getting screwed, too.

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  • Kazimar May 10, 2006 at 11:50 am

    Not surprised at all. OHSU management has a history of irresponsibility and social unconsciousness on many levels. Their extremely inhumane treatment of laboratory animals has direct parallels to their disinterest in the health of the community beyond their own interests.

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  • Jonathan Maus May 10, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    Last October I asked the guy in charge of bikes on the Tram (his name is Art Pearce)…and this is what he said:

    “The Tram is designed to accommodate bicycles on board. In addition there will be bike parking at the stations at either end.”

    I will set up a meeting with him to get more details soon.

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  • Johnny Rocco May 10, 2006 at 12:34 pm

    If they provide decent bike parking, it’s almost guaranteed that the parking office will charge up the rear for it.

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  • Sara May 10, 2006 at 1:56 pm

    Biking up the hill is hard, whether you come up Terwilliger or Bancroft and Hamilton. I bet more people would bike in if they could alternate: bike in one day, leave the bike overnight, bike home the next. I did that for a while, but I just get too nervous leaving my bike here overnight. Now I bike in less because it takes me longer to recover from each day I ride in and home. We need more secure bike parking.

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  • Warren May 10, 2006 at 2:05 pm

    Well, 100 bike spots for 600 bikers isn’t that far off from the ratio of auto parking spaces to automobile commuters at OHSU, and this is for people that have paid for a permit. Maybe if the bike commuters would volunteer to pay for a parking permit, they might get some new spaces just for them. Otherwise, why are bikers special?

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  • el timito May 10, 2006 at 5:28 pm

    Why are bikers special in the parking world? Does the fact that you can fit 10-12 bikes in the space of one car help answer that question? Given that one car parking space runs about $10,000 to build, it’s a lot cheaper to encourage the bikers to keep biking than to make them consider driving.
    Another reason bikers are special – they will save you money on your health insurance. My employer’s benefits office just sent a newsletter out saying to expect an increase in ins. cost, and encouraging employees to adopt healthier lifestyles. If you compare bike commuters’ health costs to drivers’ and do the math, you’ll see the savings.

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  • jami May 10, 2006 at 8:05 pm

    Jonathan, if you could emphasize the importance of covered parking in your meeting, that would be helpful. In four years of biking The Hill, I’ve never had a problem finding parking secure enough for my cheapie bikes (the people concerned about this have very expensive bikes, which is fine of course). But I like to keep even my cheapie bikes rust-free, and I know of dry parking for only about twenty bikes, which certainly isn’t enough. And they still need to be reminded — my brand new building has brand new, completely uncovered bike racks.

    My big bike gripe with OHSU nowadays is that while they’re building the tram, they’ve shut down the safe, quick route down the hill to bikes and pedestrians. Now you can either go the LOOOOONG way around the VA, or you can take the quick, dangerous way down. They should make the cars go around and open the road back up to bikes and pedestrians, I think.

    I’m sure OHSU doesn’t mean to mistreat bikers — it’s just that the powers that be don’t bike. They should really get input from bikers in planning every big project.

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  • Randy May 10, 2006 at 9:39 pm

    So there is a route that they have closed to bikes and peds, but left open to cars? What stops you from cycling it anyway?

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  • pdxcommuter May 11, 2006 at 6:29 am

    According to OHSU’s web page at http://www.ohsu.org/about/mission.shtml, their “…fundamental purpose is to improve the health and well being of people in Oregon and beyond.” How does discouraging biking to work fit into that mission?

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  • Kim May 11, 2006 at 8:46 am

    I just wanted to tell Jami that although upper campus drive is closed, which is what I assume is meant by the “safe, quick route down the hill”, you can still get to lower campus drive by starting towards the VA Hospital on SW Vet Hosp Rd, taking a left into the parking structure that is immediately after the OHSU parking office, and circling down through six levels of that structure. You end up joining lower campus drive right at Doernbecher’s/ Fitness Center/Book store. Much better than Sam Jackson, which must be what is meant by the “quick, dangerous way down.” And upper campus drive is supposed to be closed to most cars, too.

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  • peder e. horner, m.d. May 11, 2006 at 2:17 pm

    I personally like the (small) financial reward that OHSU offers bicycle commuters. Politics aside, OHSU is one of the very few academic medical centers in this country who incentivise their employees in such a way.

    While going down SJ Park Rd may be perilous, it does add a bit of excitement to the commute which can be come rather boring indeed. 😉

    That said, adding more secure bike storage spaces would go a long way in proving any OHSU claim to promoting healthy employee habits.

    :: peder ::

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  • Hannah May 11, 2006 at 11:08 pm

    To clarify: I did not leave OHSU specifically because of the differing opinions regarding the importance of end-of-trip facilities and the four years of near fruitless effort to increase bike facilities on campus. But it’s quite a thrill to park my bike at Kaiser’s Center for Health Research where there is adequate, secure, and I miss my friends at OHSU and am still in contact with many of them and help them find ways to persuade OHSU to promote bicycling for healthier employees and a cleaner planet.

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  • Laura May 12, 2006 at 8:29 am

    As an employee of OHSU and someone involved in the South Waterfront project, I wanted to clarify a few things:

    1. OHSU is the fourth largest employer in the State of Oregon, employing over 11,500 people. The public benefit OHSU provides is immense, from jobs, to public health, to providing cutting edge research and health care to thousands of Oregonians and to folks from outside our region. Many of our patients cannot afford healthcare and OHSU is a leader in providing health care to the un- and under-insured.
    2. OHSU has done phenominal work at attracting millions of dollars in research and at attracting some of the best talent our country has to offer, for which we all benefit.
    3. The public benefit the new South Waterfront project (the Center for Health & Healing) will provide is incalculable. It’s the only building of it’s kind in the country, combining cutting edge research with a new level of patient care, and retail facilities.
    4. It will also provide bike facilities and showers in the new March Wellness Center – 83 new bike parking spots, 21 racks and 62 secured in the parking garage.
    5. I am an avid cyclist, both recreational and racing. I commute to OHSU and will agree, the facilities on the hill leave much to be desired.
    6. Management was consulted on the new South Waterfront building in terms of bike parking and communiting. There will be new paths, parks, and alternative transportation will be promoted.

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  • Randy May 12, 2006 at 9:14 pm

    Promises, promises. I am immediately suspicious of anyone who considers themselves to be an ‘avid’ cyclist. It doesn’t sound to me like the new South Waterfront facilities will be sufficient, either. Are those numbers the required amount to satisfy City code, or to meet actual/potential demand?

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  • Tom May 15, 2006 at 8:18 am

    A major concern to bring up at this time is a safe bicycle corridor across the Ross Island Bridge to the new South Waterfront development. There is currently no crossing at the west end of the bridge. If there were a connector, bicyclists would be able to ride to the bottom of the hill from Southeast and take the tram up. This would increase bicycle commuting to OHSU significantly and make the need for parking at the South Waterfront even greater.

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  • […] A few days ago I received an email from Rachel MacKnight, the Media Relations person for Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU). She got in touch because of a post made last week that brought their bike parking facilities into question. She also included more information about how the new tram will handle bicycles. […]

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  • Kay May 16, 2006 at 10:34 pm

    What OHSU should do is include enough covered secure bike parking at South Waterfront so that folks who do not want to cycle up the hill could secure their bikes at Southwater front and take the tram to the hill. Many riders are unable to ride the hill on a regular basis. Many would also be willing to pay a fee to have secure bike parking.

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