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May 23rd, 2007 Nicholas Deshais | News Stories
 

Space: Cyclists' Final Frontier

Providence employees say hospital gives no love to bike commuters.

     
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For a hospital that sponsors one of the nation's largest bicycling events, Providence Portland Medical Center doesn't share that support for cycling with its own employees.

The Northeast Portland hospital lacks sufficient parking spaces for bikes, a situation that's especially galling to cyclists who note that Providence is an institution ostensibly concerned about public health.

"It's a hospital," says Jerod Potter, a clerical employee in Providence's oncology department. "A healthy lifestyle should be promoted. Instead they promote driving to work and smoking."

"On weekdays, especially on sunny days, the bike parking is full," Potter says, adding that doubling the number of available spaces would adequately provide what's needed.

If Potter hops in his car, more than 2,000 parking spots await him at work. But since he's a bike commuter, he must find room in one of 90 bike spots, many of which are in isolated locations.

"It's like telling a driver, 'Go to the mall and park in the furthest space you can, like a half-mile away,'" says Darren Pennington, a research analyst and bike commuter at Providence.

Earlier this year, Providence opened a $31 million parking structure with almost 1,000 new spaces for motor vehicles. Under city ordinance, one bike space must be added for every 20 car spaces when a new parking garage is built. By this math, Providence should have installed at least 50 bike spots in the new garage to fulfill the city's goal of "providing safe and convenient places to park bicycles." Instead, the city's Bureau of Development Services says, Providence put in only half that.

The hospital escaped the usual process by entering into a "covenant" with the city in 1996 that deferred normal permitting until August 2008. When the hospital last submitted a bike usage study 11 years ago, as part of its deal with the city, it reported the average use of bike parking was less than 50 percent.

Evan Manvel, executive director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, suggests those numbers were probably outdated: Data shows citywide bicycle commuting has increased 400 percent since 1996. "It's growing, and facilities need to reflect that," he adds.

One car parking space can easily be converted to 12 bike spots, Manvel says. Bike racks range in price from $50 to a few hundred dollars.

Providence—which sponsors Bridge Pedal, an event that has attracted 18,000 cyclists each of the past two years—"spends over a million dollars a year on alternative forms of transportation," including bike commuting, says spokesman Gary Walker. The hospital also has a full-time employee who deals solely with transportation issues.

On the other side of the river, Oregon Health & Science University provides more than 500 spots for bicycle parking—300 more than the one spot per 20 car spaces required by city ordinance.

"We consider Providence's bike facilities to be inadequate," says Doug Ferguson, a patient transporter at Providence. "The administration is not really doing anything about it."

 
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