Improving Health Through our Commutes

Typical commuting attire at OHSU tram.

When I first began working here at Oregon Health and Science University, I was warned that the biggest challenge was the lack of parking. Some folks I spoke with even questioned taking a job at OHSU because of this. I did put my name on the parking waiting list – but several years later when I was awarded a space (something of course that I’d have to pay for) it was one of the easiest decisions I’ve faced to reply “no thanks.”

I love my commute. Yes, it takes an hour. But within that hour I am walking at a pretty fast clip for 30 minutes. The other 30 allows me to prepare for a meeting, maybe decompress, read a document I didn’t get a chance to earlier, read a book for leisure or socialize with someone I may never have met in my “behind the steering wheel” life. I would say those of us using alternative ways to get to work – be it bus, train, bicycle, feet – are also forced to become a little more flexible, find humor in unusual situations and empathize with others. All things that probably also improve health.

A good number of my coworkers at OHSU commute by bicycle or foot for at least part of the distance. We are lucky to live in a city that has so many options to leave our cars behind, or perhaps, choose not to own one. We need to remind ourselves not to feel too elitist about our discoveries.  And we certainly pay a lot of attention to our choice of footwear and raingear. But ultimately, we are gaining big time. Our children probably are too, as they see what we are modeling. And I haven’t even mentioned environmental benefits. Perhaps by “forcing” us to look at alternatives, we actually uncover significant benefits.

Last year when Sam Jackson Road was under construction, most of the employees normally parking on the hill were unable to for over a month. Kudos to OHSU for communicating to all employees about various options – we know how important communication is in the face of change. And certainly some still grumbled. However, I was struck by a conversation I overheard on the tram one morning. Two employees spoke about how they enjoyed their discovery of getting to work through a combination of MAX and walking. They actually commented on how good they felt! Wow.

Learn more about OHSU's Bike Incentive Program.

We know that not everyone lives in a place like Portland with so many transportation options. We know that many – those working shiftwork and multiple jobs or caring for loved ones – may not feel they have the extra time to create other commuting options. Even so – a little creativity can reduce your car time. One of my fellow bus passengers shared with me how he parks his car a mile from a park and ride so he is assured of walking a bit before and after work.  What about you and your organization? What are you doing to improve health through your commutes?

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Comments

  1. I work for NIOSH, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, headquartered in Atlanta — a city long known for its tough traffic and car-centered culture. To make even car commutes better, we sited parking on our main campus a “healthy” distance from most of our workplace offices. Now, even workers who drive to work, can “enjoy” 10-15 minutes of walking to and from the workplace each day. We also encourage “bike trains” where a group of 5-10 bikers gather in their neighborhood (or a convenient commuter lot) and then travel by bike together as a group the last 5-10 miles to work. They’re more visible in traffic and therefore safer. They also enjoy more camaraderie and have greaer shared accountability for showing up day for the bike train! Of course we also encourge car-pooling, shared ride van use and public transit use–all associated with less stressful commutes. We work with local non-profits and regional transportation groups to incentivize healthier, greener options.

About the Author

Dede supports the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences and the Oregon Healthy WorkForce Center's research, engagement and education programs. She is a certified industrial hygienist.

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