Monday, November 19, 2012

Safe Routes to Health, Part I: Bike Parking

It's healthy to walk and ride bikes, right?  I'm a nurse, and I've never heard anyone in health care argue that it's better to sit in a car.  So it seems to me that health care institutions should be leading the way in making sure there are safe, convenient healthy ways to walk and ride to the places people need to go. And lots of people need to go to health clinics, pharmacies and hospitals - people who work there and people who go to get care.

Seattle Children's has developed an ambitious Transportation Master Plan that not only encourages people who work there to ride bikes and walk, but also invests in Neighborhood Greenways to make walking and biking safer, more convenient and more comfortable for visitors and people who live in the neighborhood.

One highly visible component of Seattle Children's plan is bicycle parking.  The plan calls for 600 bike parking spaces - and at least 100 of those are right at the main entrance to the hospital, almost completely full at my most recent visit.  A prominent sign by the entrance directs visitors to other bike parking areas, and the big neon sign for the parking garage includes a bike icon.  I didn't have my camera along at my last visit, so I'll leave you to imagine the highly visible bike facilities there.

How do Seattle's other healthcare institutions compare with Children's in supporting active transportation?  In this post I'll look at bike parking at two health care campuses near where I live:  Virginia Mason on First Hill and Group Health on Capitol Hill.

This "Patient Bike Rack" sign is at Virginia Mason Medical Center on First Hill.  Nearby, there's a large caged employee bike parking area at the entrance to the main parking garage; this shot shows about half of the many bikes parked there:

 Bike parking is visible from every entrance,  even the Emergency Room.

(I don't mean to imply that EVERYONE should get to the ER by bicycle!  Virginia Mason devotes a lot more space by the ER entrance to ambulance parking than bike parking!)

Signs by outdoor bike racks direct visitors to secure indoor bike parking:

None of the racks I could see as a visitor were completely full, but still it's obvious when you visit Virginia Mason that bikes are considered normal transportation for patients, visitors and employees.

Next I checked out the Group Health main campus on 15th.  Here's one of several small outdoor bike racks. All are barely used (that's my bike!) and inconspicuous from the main clinic entrance:

Small bike icons on campus maps at various locations show where outdoor racks are located - but how would anyone know there's also bike parking in the garage?

I rode into the garage to explore - but first I had to ignore this warning:

The bike parking area is low-ceilinged, dimly lit and sparsely occupied - and to get there I had to wind my way across car lanes:

There's no bike parking at the Urgent Care entrance - but that didn't stop one visitor from parking a bike there anyway:

Group Health is a very visible supporter of bicycle recreation, most notably as the primary sponsor of the annual Seattle to Portland ride - but there is little evidence on the Capitol Hill campus that bicycles are seen as normal transportation, whether for staff, for patients or for visitors.

Active, healthy transportation includes provisions for walking, bike riding, wheelchairs and other mobility aids, and safe, comfortable access to transit as well.  I'll be looking at other ways our healthcare institutions either promote or discourage these components of active transportation in a future post.


  1. Thanks, Merlin, I've been impressed by all that Children's is doing, and am happy to hear that Virginia Mason is also providing good parking facilities for bikes. It would be great to see Group Health getting on board. Are you going to look at other healthcare institutions?

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