Sunday, November 30, 2014

Porta Potties and Space Planner Unite, Embarrass UCLA

UCLA Health is the best in the West. And it is big. Real big. In 2012, exactly half of all FTE positions at UCLA are Hospital/Health Science funded (Chart 25). Its operations are formally part of UCLA, but because of its size, its budget, its fundraising, the Health System is a very special player on a very special campus. In terms of the campus pecking order there is little which stands above UCLA Health.

So when the Deans of the Medical School and the School of Nursing recently published a statement in the Huffington Post arguing that Westwood Blvd should become a Great Street, a street with bike lanes, the neighborhood and the campus pick up their ears.

What started as a series of good looking cyclists on UCLA health adverts has now became a real political program. If anyone, UCLA Health knows, the school of Public Health knows, the nurses and the doctors know that the built environment greatly impacts public health and wellbeing. With experts and advocates like these, we are on the path to something really big.

But then. But then UCLA Health needed a new building. It is called the Teaching and Learning Center (TLC). It sits below the Dental School, the corner of Tiverton Rd and Le Conte. To give the builders a bit of space, Tiverton Rd road was closed for all traffic. A precarious serpentine path for pedestrians was set up. Wheelchair (ADA) access was removed for the entire area. Houston, we have a problem.

What is so special about Tiverton for cyclists? It was a very popular entry to campus because

  • it is the direct access to campus from the Tiverton Bike Route
  • is offers a comfortable grade 
  • it avoids the steep hill on Charles E Young where cyclists struggle uphill without a bike lane
  • it has very little car traffic
  • is is much shorter than the alternative route
Based on these geographical factors, Tiverton is scheduled to become a bike and pedestrian only entry, once the TLC building work is complete. This is a great plan. But for the next year or so of ongoing building work, we request that the Architect Robert Mahterian (Director, Space & Capital Planning, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine) work with the Fire Marshall and the Site Manager to find a solution which can improve campus access for those who do not drive. See plan below.

We wrote to the Dean Eugene Washington, asking him to reconsider the closure of Tiverton for the duration of the work. The Dean instructed Mahterian to deal with this. Mahterian met us at the site and found nothing could be done. He suggested removal of the No Bikes sign to allow cyclists to walk their bike on a path.

However, the path is clearly to narrow to push bikes here. We are told the Fire Marshal and the site manager would not budge. Cyclists have to take the other route. We wrote again, suggesting a workable solution. There was no answer in writing. On the phone we were told that describing the "push your bike" suggestion as "unacceptable" would have ended the conversation. Mahterian clearly has a fine sense of his place in the campus pecking order. He would not budge for a few excited cyclists, would he?

Already in April, when the closure was implemented, the Daily Bruin spoke of the mixed reaction from the community. At the time the student journalist did not even notice that a large area suddenly became inaccessible for people with disabilities. Tiverton House is a hotel right across the road from this campus "entrance". The hotel is operated by UCLA Health. Guests used to be able to check out a bicycle for the trip to campus, but the closure makes a simple trip a much less viable option. The path is very narrow, it is marked "slope exceeds 1:12" and is partly without protection towards a steep hillside. Would it pass a health and safety inspection?

Now that the foundation of the building has been constructed, it would be a very good time to rethink the design of the Tiverton entrance for the remainder of the work. Mahterian probably believes himself to be entirely justified to tell cyclists to get real and push their bikes on a narrow path, to get real and ride up that hill and get over with it. He does not see how his view (and, importantly, the built environment he is responsible for) is firmly caught inside the good old Cars First universe of Southern California (and its extreme garages here). If there was a heart surgeon who needed to park his vehicle in a hurry, that would be another story. But those Bruins who ride a bike? Tough luck!

Is that the tip of the iceberg? Back in 2006, the UCLA Bicycle Masterplan did not list the health sciences as a participant in the process. My own survey of some sites occupied by the UCLA Health System in Los Angeles and Santa Monica discovered a conspicuous absence of facilities that would project expertise and accommodation for those who do not drive. Bike parking? Don't ask. What about the projected bike connection between the hospitals in Westwood, at the VA and in Santa Monica? Another victim of car-think perhaps. Was it really OK to remove the bike rack at UCLA Rehab to make space for a valet parking service? Why do they make it so hard for us to identify that special effort to attract and support cyclists?

Valet Parking has replaced Bicycle Parking at Rehab
The school which is home to such pioneers as Richard Jackson and Michael Goldstein, the school that has brought us the very successful Healthy Campus Initiative, it apparently relies on the services of an unreconstructed space planner whose work exhibits little expertise in how to make a place safe and welcoming for active and healthy modes. The outcome is a cognitive dissonance, an embarrassment that the campus really does not need. The Deans of the medical school can not be seen to argue for bike lanes in Westwood, but fail to provide for a reasonable accommodation on their own turf.

Those who follow the money say that UCLA is a campus attached to a hospital. This is why it is so important that Mahterian, Director of Space & Capital Planning at the Health System, follows the lead of his Dean and becomes our champion for healthy and sustainable transportation. Therefore we have asked the Los Angeles County Bicycle CoalitionCalifornia Bicycle Coalition, and the League of American Bicyclists, who awarded UCLA a bicycle friendly campus distinction in 2011, to address these concerns with Mahterian and to point him to the resources he needs. We are also seeking legal advice relating to the Americans with Disabilities Act. We are also preparing a Public Records Request aimed at identifying the expertise, in-house and out-sourced, UCLA Health System has had at its disposal relating to building, planning and providing for those who do not drive. We are specially interested if and how the good people of UCLA transportation have been silenced when interacting with the Big Big Bear which is UCLA Health. UCLA transportation knows a thing or two about prioritizing healthy and sustainable modes, thank you very much, and they deserve to be heard.

And we ask faculty and staff and students to take a minute and remind Mahterian   that his extra effort towards improving bike and pedestrian access at the Tiverton campus entrance during the building work is really appreciated. To remind him that he not only has the support of his Dean, but that of his Chancellor and that of the UC Office of the President

That's why the series of blue porta potties placed bang in the middle of Tiverton Rd are now ready to move to a more decorous location and allow healthy bicycle circulation to resume.

Porta Potties currently located on Tiverton Rd should be moved to make space for a wider path at the Tiverton entrance

And then, when these blue porta potties have made space for people on bikes, then we can sit down together and look at the plans for the new TLC Building to make sure it embodies all the Tender Loving Care those pesky UCLA cyclists deserve. So that UCLA Health can really become The Best in the West.

In Green: Proposed temporary Tiverton access path wide enough for pedestrians
 and bicycles to share, also serving as emergency access path

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