Sunday, March 22, 2015

In appreciation: Nicole Freedman

Nicole Freedman, bicycle czarina here in Boston for seven years, is headed off to Seattle to lead their Active Transportation initiative. Almost single-handedly, she transformed a very bicycle unfriendly city into one that--subject to the limits of a cow-path formed streetscape--is much more conducive to urban wheelers.  As she notes in her farewell letter:

I am proud of how much we have accomplished together for cycling here in Boston. Since launching we have added 92 miles of bike lanes and nearly 2,000 bike racks. We have an award winning Community Biking Program which has donated 4,015 bikes and trained 23,000 youth. And of course, the New Balance Hubway system has become a new Boston institution.

I first met Nicole when she was visiting a patient in our hospital.  She was introduced to me by our Chief of Medicine, Mark Zeidel, a family friend.  Mayor Thomas Menino later offered her a position in his admininstration, and she got to work quickly.

A few months later, she came to me wondering how she might get the Boston area hospitals to contribute to Hubway,  a series of bike rental depots to be located at key points throughout the city.  "How much is each bike stand?" I asked.  It was $100,000.

Understanding the competitive nature of our industry, I said, "I can guarantee participation by every hospital in town."  She looked stunned.  I said, "We'll fund two stands on our two campuses. All you have to do is call the CEO or COO at every other hospital and tell them that BIDMC has committed to the Mayor's new bike program.  They will immediately join in."  Sure enough, within two weeks, she had enough commitments to proceed with the program, anchored by bike stands at the city's hospitals.

One of Nicole's key programs was Hub on Wheels, a daylong biking romp through neighborhoods of the city.  It attracted thousands of riders.  After participating the first year, I realized that it had insufficient medical coverage along the route, so we volunteered to set up tents with doctors and nurses at key locations, along with ambulances donated by Cataldo Ambulance Service.  We also fielded a team of riders from the hospital staff, including that very Dr. Zeidel (seen left, in yellow slicker) who had made the initial introduction.

We were encouraged to do all this by Nicole's vibrant energy, enthusiasm, and good humor.  Others throughout the city likewise pitched in to help or participate.  Even Mayor Menino was seen on a bicycle, although he confided to me that he was, er, less than comfortable sitting on a bike for an extended period of time.  (I'll pass on the exact terminology he used!)  In short, Nicole demonstrated what one committed person can achieve for an urban area.  We all wish her well in Seattle!

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