Boston Children’s Hospital has a plan to keep visitors healthy and sane: Spare them the hassle of crossing Longwood Avenue.
The hospital plans to file papers on Tuesday with the Boston Redevelopment Authority, seeking permission to build a $23 million pedestrian bridge from the visitor parking garage right into the hospital.
The bridge would cross Longwood at Blackfan Circle, a crowded spot where, every hour, roughly 1,000 cars drive by, 200 swing through the hospital carport, and 400 people hustle in and out of the hospital on foot.
Children’s has been trying to build a bridge there for over a dozen years, but City Hall has blocked the way. The city has allowed a dozen pedestrian bridges over smaller streets within the medical district, but none over Longwood, the main thoroughfare, because of concerns it would detract from the vitality of the street.
Now, however, the hospital is reviving the plan with the support of Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who effectively lived at Children’s for four years as a cancer-stricken kid. Children’s hopes to have the bridge built by early 2017, said Charles Weinstein, vice president for development.
In an odd historical twist, it turns out the hospital owns this short stretch of Longwood Avenue, dating back to when cows grazed there to make milk for infant patients, Weinstein said. A century ago, the hospital gave the city air rights over the street.
Now, he said, “we’ll be asking [the city] to give back what was ours.”
Hospital’s bike patrol targets smokers
A woman slipped out the back door of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and reached for a pack of cigarettes. Just then, Sean Doolan rolled up on his Smith & Wesson bike.
“Good morning, ma’am!” called out the security guard on wheels.
“I know, no smoking,” the woman replied. “I’m just wicked stressed. My aunt is dying up there.”
The Brigham and nine other Boston hospitals banned smoking on their properties in 2011. But some patients, staff, and visitors keep lighting up. So in mid-May, the Brigham dispatched Doolan to check for smokers while making his rounds. (Security guards at other Longwood Medical Area hospitals also patrol their grounds for smokers, but not on bicycles.)
Doolan caught 300 people smoking on the Brigham’s property in his first month, and another 260 the next. He doesn’t issue fines; instead, he hands out smoking “tickets,” small white cards asking smokers not to light up within 30 feet of campus.
The papers also offer guidance on kicking the habit.
Doolan also stops people who smoke on the public sidewalks outside the hospital. He has no jurisdiction over them, but he does ask if they’d please move along.
“There’s nothing worse than walking into a plume of smoke if you’re a cancer patient,” Doolan said.
Doolan said some smokers push back: “We get called fake cops, rent-a-cops, ‘Who are you to tell me what to do?’ ”
He got a more empathetic reply from the smoker who had come to Longwood to visit her aunt. She agreed not to smoke at the hospital’s back door if the security guard would just tell her where to go instead.
Doolan’s tip: Head over the Harvard property line, to an out-of-sight spot behind a Dumpster.
“I appreciate it,” the woman said. “You guys have to do what you have to do.”
After a fatal crash, Longwood cyclists unite
A surgeon’s untimely death has added urgency to a new effort by Longwood bike commuters to band together in the name of safer streets.
David Read was biking to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute on Aug. 7 when he came across a crumpled bicycle on Massachusetts Avenue at Beacon Street. Anita Kurmann, a Longwood doctor, had just been killed by a tractor trailer while riding her bike.
Hours later, Read and 20 other cycling advocates, including hospital transit staff and leaders of bike groups from across Longwood Medical Area, got together for the first time. The new coalition, which represents at least 2,000 cyclists, plans to push for more separated bike lanes, including on Brookline Avenue.
A vice president at Dana-Farber, Read gave up a coveted hospital parking spot to commit to the two-wheeled lifestyle. He sees hope in the state’s plans for a separated bike lane leading to Longwood so commuters can avoid the dangerous intersection where Kurmann was killed. Meanwhile, he plans to keep pedaling through that spot on his hand-painted hybrid bike.
“You can’t give up,” he said.
Challenge set for future Harvard dean
Just before he stepped down as dean of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health this month, Julio Frenk set out a challenge for his successor: Raise more money. A whole lot more.
Those are daunting words coming from Frenk, who helped secure a record-breaking $350 million gift from Gerald and Ronnie Chan.
The next dean can’t kick back and ride on that donation: It’s an endowment, so the school can spend only about $17.5 million a year. Far more is needed not only to run the school, but also to pay for major renovations or a new building, Frenk said.
The school is spread out across 24 buildings in varying conditions.
Most classrooms in the main facility, the 1970s Kresge Building on Huntington Avenue, are lecture halls where students sit in chairs, staring at the teacher. As it moves away from that “sage-on-the-stage” approach, the school needs to dramatically redesign its classrooms, Frenk said.
Frenk, a former health minister of Mexico, joined Harvard in 2009. The recession had dealt a blow to the endowment and the school was in “crisis mode,” he said. Under his leadership, the school brought in more money from industry and foundations, overhauled the master’s in public health degree, and created a new doctoral degree.
Now, more students who get into the school actually choose to go, Frenk said in an interview shortly before he started his new job as the University of Miami’s president.
A search committee has begun meeting to help Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust pick a successor, a process that could take a year. Meanwhile, David Hunter is acting dean.
Asked what he could have done differently at Harvard, Frenk paused.
“It’s a tough question for me to answer,” he said. “I don’t think I have made a big, big, big mistake.”
Just then, his assistant knocked on the door. “I need to go,” Frenk said, saved by the bell. “I need to make it to dinner.”
This is the first in a weekly column about the Longwood medical community. Melissa Bailey can be reached at Melissa.Bailey@statnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @MMBaily.
An earlier version of this article had an incorrect image credit for a rendering. It was produced by Payette.