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Bike riding doctor Mel Kohn to lead Oregon Health Authority

Posted by on March 19th, 2010 at 9:38 am

U.S. Surgeon General rides in Portland-19.jpg

Dr. Kohn, speaking in support of Safe Routes
to School during a visit by the U.S.
Surgeon General in April 2008.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Dr. Mel Kohn has been named the new head of the Oregon Public Health Division, which is set to become part of the new Oregon Health Authority. Kohn had been serving as the acting public health director and state health officer since September 2008.

Kohn also happens to be a regular bike rider who has shown engagement and interest in encouraging the use of bicycles — especially through the Safe Routes to School program — for years.

Walk and Bike to School Day

Dr. Kohn on a bike in
Southeast Portland.

I first met Dr. Kohn at Walk and Bike to School Day back in October 2005. In 2006 he joined a group of families and Safe Routes staffers for a ride through Southeast Portland. In 2008, Kohn told The Oregonian that, “If we get people out of their cars, not only do we reduce pollution, but we also get them walking.”

Dr. Kohn was also a member of Governor Kulongoski’s Climate Change Integration Group, which published a report in March of 2008 that encouraged the state to invest more money in biking infrastructure as a key way to reduce greenhouse gases and Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT).

Most recently, I ran into Dr. Kohn at the Congressional Reception at the National Bike Summit in Washington D.C.

Having someone like Dr. Kohn, who intimately understands the connection between biking and public health, in this important and influential position, is good news. He’ll join another high-ranking bike rider in Salem, new State Treasurer Ted Wheeler.

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Lowly state employee

I keep prodding Mel to be more public in his support. Lillian Shirley’s (Multnomah County) personal testimony for the bike plan left me feeling a vacuum from Oregon public health officials. It’s one thing to not have any money; it’s another to not allow yourself a voice.

And then it would be nice, with all the “healthy workplace” efforts I keep hearing about, to improve the bike infrastructure at state offices.