Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Sarah and Amy get acquainted

OK, this is not a big deal in some ways, but it is a nice story about communication between the academic staff and the administrative staff in our hospital. I like what this email exchange stands for -- environmental concerns, staff concerns, safety issues, etc., but especially the respect that our folks show to one another.

To whom it may concern,

My name is Sarah, and I have been here for three years as a researcher in the Neurology department in Palmer 127. I bike here to BIDMC everyday from Somerville, which takes about half an hour, rain or shine, blizzard or intense heat. For the majority of the time I have been here, I have locked my bike outside the railings of the Farr building (directly across the street from the emergency room in the West Campus). Last week, however, I received a note from public safety notifying me to lock my bike elsewhere because it is a hazard to lock my bike along the railings outside of Farr.

For the most part, I do not see how my bike being locked there can be a hazard. It is merely an exit—and not even the main exit—and not many people traverse that way. The part that bothers me more however was that public safety suggested I lock my bike in one of the garages instead. I tend to work late and not leave until well after dark, and as a woman, I am incredibly anxious about walking into a garage alone when most people have already left. For this, I find it unsettling and ironic that public safety suggest I lock my bike in the garage. If they are indeed concerned about my safety, they would have suggested otherwise.

Prior to construction work right outside of the Farr building entrance, there used to be bike racks opposite of the Farr building entrance. While these racks were not sufficient during the heart of summer when most people chose to bike here, they provided additional spaces to lock bikes. The majority of them have since been removed a few months ago when construction took place there.

I merely ask that these bike racks be put back where they were (opposite the main Farr entrance). Barring that and my desire to not lock my bike in the garage, is there another area relatively open and near the Farr building where I can lock my bike if public safety feels that I cannot lock it outside the railings of Farr?

As a hospital and health institution, I hope BIDMC supports those who wish to promote a healthy lifestyle by biking. I do not believe that placing the bike racks back where they were would intrude on anything.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Hi Sarah,

Thank you for your email. It was both timely and helpful. As someone trying to encourage more employees to ride to work, I want to thank you for continuing to do so.

I understand your frustration with having the racks in front of the Farr Building moved so I want to first explain why we needed to do that. Earlier this year the hospital began a series of projects designed to make the facilities more accessible to patients with a variety of disabilities. As I have begun looking for more rack locations I have learned that what looks like plenty of space to a biker is often not enough clearance to a wheelchair or false information to a blind person navigating a railing with their hands. We attempted to communicate the reason for the relocation via the portal and an email to managers but it is clear that we did not succeed in reaching everyone so I want to apologize for that.

When I learned that the racks needed to be relocated my priority was to find safe sheltered spots that could serve as a fair substitute for the spaces being lost across from the Farr entrance. I ruled out several locations that did not pass my "5 '2" female leaving alone after dark" test. We decided to put them in the garages because there are parking garage attendants in both West Campus garages. In LMOB the racks are right next to the booth and has the added of advantage of being accessible directly from the building. In Pilgrim, you need to walk by the booth to get to your bike. Since you are one of our hardy cyclists who ride, regardless of weather, I hope you will feel comfortable using the garage spaces, particularly on days when you want to protect your bike from the weather.

That said, we share your expectation that bike traffic will increase as the weather warms up so Chief Casey has been working for awhile to get more racks added. Space is a challenge, but we have identified a few spots in well let areas closer to some entrances so we hope to have some racks installed soon.

A similar email exchange with a bike commuter last week was really helpful in changing the criteria I was using to find additional spots. Doing so opened up a few more options, so please feel free to contact me both with any questions about this email or any thoughts for alternative locations.


-Amy Lipman, BIDMC Environmental Sustainability Coordinator

Dear Amy,

I would like to thank you very much for your quick response. It is really great to work at a place where people (especially the executives at the top) take your concerns seriously and try to implement a solution right away. I think that is thoughtful and wonderful and though I have limited experience with the customs here in the U.S. (I am from Switzerland and have spent a total of three years here), I am almost certain that this is a sign of the openness and community of BIDMC. I am very grateful for that.

That being said, I have thought about the bike racks again and have three suggestions for possible locations. Though these locations may not be the most viable, I am merely keeping the conversation open and exchanging ideas:

1) How about replacing the parking spots opposite to the Farr entrance with bike racks? Hardly any handicapped people get out there and most people park right in front of the entrance, along the sidewalk anyway.

2) How about racks in front of the Main entrance of the West Clinical Center (similar to the racks in front of the Joslin Diabetes Center)? There is plenty of space - again especially for the cars - and some of that could be yielded for bicyclists? Or even under the awning, there would probably be some space for both pedestrians and bikes.

3) How about converting some space in the emergency room parking lot? While there is no overhead sheltering, space is abundant and seem like a decent place to lock some bikes.

I know by now that cars are really important to Americans and that it is just normal for them to put the car anywhere. While I understand everybody would like to be in front of the main entrance, arguing for bicyclists, I think it’d better if such spaces could be shared between bicyclists and motorists?

I apologize for being bold, and I don't mean to offend anybody. I am grateful for the opportunity to openly share my concerns and suggestions. Thank you!


Hi Sarah,

Thanks for your thoughtful response and your ideas. Even if we can't put racks in the exact locations you suggested, hearing your suggestions helps us understand priorities as we look for places that can work. It sounds like the closer to the building entrance the better. Sheltered spots are helpful, but you'd be willing to trade shelter for proximity. This priority list echoes that of a second bike commuter who sent me some suggestions. Initially we prioritized sheltered spots, resulting in covered spaces far from main entrances. For the next set of racks we are going to prioritize proximity to building entrances.

In response to the specific locations you suggested, I am afraid they won't work, so I wanted to quickly explain why. As I walked past MIT last night I couldn't help but notice all the of bike racks lined up under major buildings, some of them running the length of the building, and all of them filled almost to capacity. The sight of them made me jealous. Most of the people I interact with are the 7,000 or so healthy employees who come in and out of here every day. Many of them are trying to find greener ways to get to work. However, as a hospital, our primary mission is to treat people who aren't 100% healthy. This means we need to share our streets, sidewalks and entrances with patients, many of whom are here to treat conditions that limit their mobility or who have received treatments that temporarily impede their mobility. Add the challenge of being on 2 sides of a busy street and we find ourselves much more reliant on motorized transportation than a place like MIT or typical office building that caters to a vibrant healthy population. This means that we need to a decent amount of car access available for ambulances, patient drop-off and shuttles. Like handicapped spaces in a parking lot, the key here is that they have to be available even if they are underutilized.

While we can't put racks in any of the places you suggested, we have identified places that I hope will be almost as good. The rack in Lowry that was installed incorrectly is going to be moved outside the Deaconess building on the concrete slab next to the entrance to public safety. My hope is that it will serve the bikes that can't find space on the racks under the bridge. It isn't sheltered but both you can see both the WCC and Farr entrances from it. We are hoping to have this moved on Monday.

If we are able to purchase more racks for the West Campus, the plan is to install them to the left of the WCC entrance. There are two jogs in the building, just past the shuttle stop, that give us enough extra sidewalk space to put bike racks.

Thanks again for thoughts and suggestions. I look forward to your feedback on the new locations.



CrusaderRN said...

The simple act of listening to someone's concerns and responding to them means a great deal...respect in the work place cannot be overrated.

e-Patient Dave said...

I beg to differ; it is a big deal when anyone listens to someone, and especially when a big organization hears the concerns of one of the worker bees - or patients.

It's not trivial, I know - it can be a big communication load. But when I participated in the Lean workshop at BIDMC last month, I learned the core Lean principle of "respect for people." To those who focus on the workload, exchanged like this can seem like a burden. But they can be transformational. Really. Not like a two-bit buzzword, but like "bringing forth new possibilities that were never apparent."

Y'know, stuff like this is just a darn good reason to be alive. I like it.

Anonymous said...

I love the respect Amy and Sarah show for one another. But, in the spirit of quality improvement, wouldn't it have been faster and more efficient for them to have had this conversation by phone??

Anonymous said...

Not necessarily. The asynchronous nature of email is one of the things that makes it efficient: You don't have to be free to talk at the same time.