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Biking to Work at Penn Medicine: A Growing Wave?

pavilion bike commuting

Penn’s newest and biggest inpatient hospital building, the Pavilion at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), is rising fast. Leaders and staff from across Penn Medicine recently signed the steel beam that will soon top off the structure and signify a milestone in construction. Though the building is still two years away from opening, the planning process for the new, state-of-the-art, “future-proof” facility, encompasses a lot more than just the physical building materials. The Pavilion could also help change things in subtler ways that still affect health — such as the way that some staff and visitors get to the building.

Got a helmet?

The site plan for the Pavilion includes space for more than 300 bicycles in racks in three locations around the building, including 158 covered bicycle rack spaces. Those stats were rolled out during the second in a series of town halls hosted by HUP CEO Regina Cunningham, PhD, RN, to keep staff engaged and updated on progress with the Pavilion. Staff engagement is one of the key principles at work throughout the planning process, as the team solicited questions via email and text message before, during, and after the town halls.

Mark Mumbauer, a member of Penn Medicine’s Information Services team who works as a local support provider in Academic Computing Services, is one staff member whose thoughts have already helped shape plans. Mumbauer had contacted the Pavilion planning team after the previous town hall, requesting that the plans incorporate consideration for bicycle commuters.

“Cycling rejuvenates my soul,” Mumbauer said. “I want to make sure the larger community can reap those benefits.” Mumbauer cycles to work and to drop off his 7-year-old son at school, every day, from the Kensington area of Philadelphia to University City, in a European-style cargo bike with a child seat in the front. He also often cycles within University City during the work day if he needs to go to buildings across campus to provide technical support or transport computer equipment.

Mumbauer now joins regular transportation planning meetings along with Francis Connelly, the assistant executive hospital director at HUP who oversees parking and transportation, among other areas, and Carolyn Jackson, HUP’s chief operating officer. In one such meeting, this team discussed the Indego bicycle sharing service — and noted that at large events in University City, demand sometimes exceeds capacity. They subsequently met with representatives from Indego, and the recent Penn Relays included on-site support from Indego staff who were able to check in and out more bikes than the usual capacity of the racks. Plans are also now underway to add a new 24-bike Indego rack outside of HUP at 34th and Spruce Streets, alongside the many racks that already exist for people who ride their own bikes. These additions reflect another key principle of the Pavilion planning process: looking for ways to improve the way things are already done today, not just waiting until the new building is finished.

Mumbauer said he continues to participate in transportation planning for Penn Medicine as a bicycle advocate because he thinks that perspective is important. While he notes that there are a lot of people who dislike cyclists based on the perception that they get in the way and break traffic rules, Mumbauer emphasizes that adding more cyclists, reduces vehicular traffic —a win for the environment as well as for congestion.

Plus, cycling can be a great way to enhance a healthy lifestyle.

Bicycling offers four main health benefits, according to Arsh Dhanota, MD, an assistant professor of Family Medicine and Community Health and of Orthopaedic Surgery. “The most important benefit is it improves one's sense of well-being,” he said. “Quite simply, bicycling can make one happier. Exercise leads to a release of endorphins in the brain, resulting in an improved mood.”

Riding a bike also improves cardiovascular fitness and improves endurance, leading to greater energy levels throughout the day, greater stamina, and less fatigue. Dhanota also points out that bicycling is better for joint health than some other forms of exercise because most weight is placed on the pelvis and not on knee, ankle, and hip joints. “Even those with osteoarthritis and achy and painful joints, in general, can bike for exercise,” he said, adding that bicycling is also a good form of resistance training, which means that it builds muscle and improves bone health.

Commuting to work by bike can compound all of those benefits by making sure the activity becomes routine and happens multiple days per week.

“You’ll build more endurance, cardiovascular fitness, and have an improved sense of mental and physical well-being by the time you start your day at work,” Dhanota said.

Mumbauer agrees: “It refreshes me on the way to work, and on the way home it gives me clear mental space to disconnect and then connect to home life. Plus, the fresh air and the sensory aspect of sights and smells are revitalizing.”

Mumbauer wants to build up more of a network of likeminded colleagues, so he encourages Penn Medicine staff who share this interest to contact him — just not this week. He’s off on a cycling and hiking trip in Switzerland. “I love visiting other parts of the world where these original, not alternative, modes of transportation are promoted,” he said. “It’s better than the sedentary way. I want to get people out and moving some more.”

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Views expressed are those of the author or other attributed individual and do not necessarily represent the official opinion of the related Department(s), University of Pennsylvania Health System (Penn Medicine), or the University of Pennsylvania, unless explicitly stated with the authority to do so.

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