Ohio State medical student Gates Failing addresses safe bicycle commuting in Columbus

Safe bicyclingCelebrating almost a decade, the Columbus-Athens Albert Schweitzer Fellows Program, hosted by The Ohio State University College of Medicine, is a consortium that compromises nine colleges and schools from The Ohio State University and two colleges from Ohio University. In addition, two of Columbus’ largest medical centers, OhioHealth and Nationwide Children’s Hospital, are full partners. Participants of the program are graduate and professional students whose fields of study and personal interests are relevant to serving and empowering vulnerable people to live healthier lives, and in turn create healthier communities. The program’s aim is to provide services that address important needs in underserved communities as well as to train the next generation of professional leaders with the ability to effect change within the social and healthcare systems, ultimately impacting people’s health and lives. Schweitzer Fellowship projects in Columbus and Athens address not only clinical health issues, but also the social determinants of health — defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, which are mostly responsible for health and social inequities.

One of this year’s fellows is Gates Failing. His project addresses safe bicycle commuting in Columbus by developing a series of community bicycle rides for members of underserved urban populations. He is partnering with Franklinton Cycle Works, a nonprofit community cycle shop that provides low-cost bicycle maintenance and repair instruction. Community rides led by Failing offer practical education on lane positioning, signaling, navigating busy intersections and other practical cycling habits for riders of all levels and backgrounds. The program hopes to cultivate a positive culture surrounding bicycle commuting to reduce barriers associated with convenient and affordable transportation.

Originally from Philadelphia and now a second-year medical student at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Failing was introduced to the idea of combining his passion for biking with community advocacy through a class at Ohio State. He decided to apply to the Columbus-Athens Albert Schweitzer program because he had heard that the program could help medical students turn their passions into a way to benefit the community. There are many medical students with brilliant ideas, and the Columbus-Athens Albert Schweitzer program allows those students to execute those ideas and gain support from a national organization.

Through the program, medical students connect with both a community and an academic mentor. Failing worked with Franklinton Cycle Works’ director and a pediatric trauma surgeon from Nationwide Children’s Hospital. In addition, the program allotted a $3,000 stipend to support and launch the initiative.

Failing developed a curriculum encompassing the basics of cycling safety that centers around a monthly community ride. People of all walks of life can come to the free rides, be fitted with borrowed bikes and helmets from the shop and receive an overview on the basics of cycling. From there, they launch into an interactive bike ride where they stop frequently for questions, group debriefings and building cycling camaraderie. The ride’s main goal is to demonstrate how to bike safely through various levels of stress and traffic. During the ride, Failing teaches community members effective strategies for signaling while turning, lane positioning, traffic spacing and addressing road rage. Failing says the two most important takeaways for riders are to learn predictability and visibility. Predictability is used to make sure riders show other cars and traffic where they are going next — no sudden turns or movements — and being aware of one’s surroundings. In terms of visibility, Failing stresses the importance of having a front and rear light on your bike, as well as wearing reflective clothing.

The bike ride is a 7-mile loop that starts at Franklinton Cycle Works. Riders begin by venturing to the local library and continuing to Dodge Park. Gradually entering more traffic, riders cross over the Main Street Bridge to Kroger on Front Street. Failing wanted to show community members that the grocery store is accessible through biking. They finish their ride passing the downtown Capitol Square and back to the bike shop. The ride consists of up to 12 people, and community members can easily sign up in person or online via the shop’s website to participate.

Failing’s overall goal for the rides is to give community members a basic knowledge of cycling so they can participate in the rides and hopefully continue cycling safety through recreation or commuting activities. He wants people to know that biking doesn’t have to be intimidating, and that it is not just for people who like to race or don’t have a driver’s license. Biking is something anyone can do, and it‘s possible to safely bike on the road alongside cars. He wants to help people learn and recognize safe and adaptive behaviors that will keep riders and others on the road safe.

The program started in April and is approximately one year long. The program helps medical students develop a sustainable project that can continue beyond the yearlong fellowship. Failing set up the rides so they can continue monthly even after he completes the program.

Failing said his favorite part of the program is the interactions and relationships he has built within the Franklinton community. Through the program, he has met and talked to many different community members and has begun to better understand their transportation needs, though he learns more and more with every community ride. Additionally, he says the program allows participants to be independent with the power to create and execute your own project.

Each spring, the program holds a Celebration of Service to honor graduating fellows and welcome new ones. And there is much to celebrate: The impact these fellows have on the community is truly phenomenal.