Monday, March 6, 2017

Bring on the Experts: Bicycles: Yielding (AB 1103) for more health and cleaner air

California is a big deal. Just behind the US, China, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom, our state is the sixth largest economy in the world. They do a lot of driving here in California, 327 770 million miles to be precise. All this driving is a big problem for air quality, and for communities which are hurt by traffic. Moreover, all those cars discourage and prevent people from using active and healthy modes like the bicycle.

Traffic planning has facilitated and encouraged cars for more than 100 years. Little wonder that those who want to use active modes, for their own health or for the health of the environment, confront plenty of hurdles and barriers. Plenty of them! On Westwood Blvd and elsewhere.

But now the law-makers in Sacramento have come out with a new plan. It is called AB 1103 Bicycles: Yielding. On February 17, 2017 Assembly Members Obernolte and Ting, supported by Senator Wiener, Assembly Members Bloom, Chávez, and Kiley (@JayObernolte @PhilTing @Scott_Wiener @RichardBloom @AsmRocky @KevinKileyCA) introduced a proposal for a bill which would bring the so-called Idaho-Stop to California. It would allow those who are riding a bicycle to treat a stop sign as a yield sign. The proposal states:

When the law was introduced in Idaho in 1982, it was shown to reduce collisions involving people on bikes. It is not a provision to blow through stop signs. It is an arrangement that takes into account the 360% visibility enjoyed by the person on the bike, and the ability to hear approaching vehicles. There are no A-pillars or windows on the bike. The law also takes into account that, compared with a motor vehicle, the bicycle poses much less of a danger to other road users. It would also end the annoying intersection confusion that often occurs when a cyclist comes to a full stop, finds himself waved through, but then needs to co-ordinate with drivers from other directions. 

I have a dozen of these signs on my own commute to UCLA. As an occasional unicyclist, I have mastered the art of trackstand to the degree that I can do red lights and stop signs without putting my feet on the ground, rolling back and forth slowly, regardless of wind and now also with onlookers. I will miss the opportunity of show off my tricks, but this law is not about me. 

It is about those Californians who would ride a bicycle but have been put off by a infrastructure which does not project safety, and by a legal system that does protect cycling. The law (and enforcement) fails vulnerable road users in many ways: It does not offer presumed liability, it fails to address the epidemic of hit and run collisions, and vehicle based enforcement by police remains structurally blind to the dangerous wave of distracted driving which we have to contend with when cycling. AB 1103 could be the moment when the legal system takes the most vulnerable road users out of the shadow. But the point of this proposal is not that it would legalize a widespread practice on the road, the real point is that it would and could encourage more people to try healthy and sustainable modes for the many short trips Californians drive. Aggrieved voices from behind a steering wheel feel this proposal gives those on a bike an unfair advantage: But the advantage of the California Yielding will be available to all drivers, they just need to get on a bike. 

Indeed, the true value of this law may well be the public discussion it will produce. This is a good discussion to have, to underline the urgency for more sustainable modes and less driving. When we bring this issue in front of 39 million Californians, each of whom is driving 14.000 miles a year, where more than 40% of all trips are less than 5 miles long, some insight may well occur, some lights my be switched on, and some drivers my venture outside their comfort zone and try how it feels to take advantage of the privilege California Yielding will afford to those heroes who pedal in traffic. 

Which brings us to the main question: How many lights will this proposal be able to switch on? How much enlightenment can a public discussion like this produce? Indeed, how many of the 327 770 million miles driven in California will be replaced by miles pedaled as a consequence of the law, and the simplification it offers for those who chose to do the right thing? How many more miles pedaled?

How will the public react? How much encouragement is in this new law? That then is the big question for the public health experts: Will AB 1103  yield 1 million, 2 million, or 20 million additional bike miles a year? Can we please urgently get a rough estimate from the experts? And would they be so kind to translate these additional miles cycled into air quality benefits, and translate them into health costs not incurred? How many premature lives not lost? And what would be the value, in  millions of  $, of carbon emissions avoided? What would be the value of health benefits achieved by these additional active modes? In millions of $ please. 

These figures are urgently required. They can help to structure the public discussion about the proposal. And they can teach even the most dedicated motorhead that there is real money to be gained from giving your people on bikes a legislative leg up.

Friday, May 6, 2016

It has two wheels, prevents obesity

It has two wheels, prevents obesity and helps with 2025 Carbon Neutral goal of UCLA Health

Now is a great time for physicians at UCLA Health to realize the full potential of the bicycle: For their patients AND for our environment. 

The UCLA Bicycle Academy says: Cycling is not just a hobby, one that many physicians share. Cycling can address the obesity epidemic, it can slow global warming, and it is fun. 

The Bicycle Academy asks: Where are the physicians who recognize the connection between health and environment and who would like to grasp the opportunity of the UC 2025 carbon neutral goals. Where are the physicians who want to embrace the bicycle as a way to prevent disease, to improve health, and to design their facilities with cyclists in mind.

In early June 2016 the Bicycle Academy will meet with Paul Watkins, CAO of the Santa Monica hospital, to talk about ways in which the Health System can better serve those who do not drive. To improve access and facilities for those who do not drive, we will suggest that all UC branded health facilities covered by a bicycle master plan.

But this conversation should also include the bicycle as medicine. If you want to offer "a ride with the doc," if you want to work with a educational "pharmacy" which could fulfill a prescription for cycling, if you would like set up a research program which evaluates the effectiveness bicycle interventions, if bicycle therapy can save money over alternative interventions, I think UCLA Health (and the UC Health Centers) are now ready to listen to you.

Together with Mark Needham MD (Faculty Practice Group), the Bicycle Academy looks forward to co-ordinate the voices from the medical community. 

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: