Healthcare Reform in the USA has been in the news a lot, with strongly felt opinions on both sides. I certainly have opinions on it as well, but I never expected that its first effect on me would be bicycle related, and that it would be due to an unintended consequence. There’s every chance it will affect others reading this as well. While this is essentially an American story, major legislation in other countries also have unintended consequences.
BIKE COMMUTER PARADISE
One NICE feature of my commute to Fort Worth Alliance Airport is we have a modern building with handicapped access fully integrated into it. All the bathrooms have handicapped stalls, and we have two deluxe handicapped bathrooms similar to those you might find in a private hospital room. This is a REALLY GOOD unintended consequence of the “American Disabilities Act” for cyclists, because it means there are two showers for men and two for women. In each case, one of the two showers is in a single-occupant handicapped bathroom. Conveniently enough, this single-occupant bathroom is large, locks from inside, and I will typically wheel my bike in there when I take my shower and change clothes. Things are made even more convenient, because lockers are right around the corner from this bathroom and it is across from the freight elevator I typically ride with my bike before it hides behind the door of my office. I freely admit this is a sweet deal that goes beyond the strict call of duty for corporate obligation. How many of you get “in office” parking?
This week, however, I learned that page 1239 of the Healthcare Reform Bill will put a crimp in this bike commuter paradise. Page 1239, you see, is an amendment intended to help out nursing mothers. It requires that lockable private space be provided for nursing mothers. Clearly, our very large, single-occupant, handicapped bathrooms with the showers and door locks would work very well in this regard. A mother expressing milk at our facility has space, privacy, and plumbing facilities all conveniently, but not intrusively, at hand. The PROBLEM that causes the unintended consequence to us bike commuters is that the provision specifies that THIS SPACE CANNOT BE A BATHROOM under the law, no matter WHAT that bathroom really contains or how it is equipped.
To make a long story short, our women’s shower bathroom has been selected for compliance with page 1239, because it is easy to turn into a nursing mother room. All they have to do is remove the bathroom fixtures. One of those fixtures is the shower. The nursing couch has already been placed in the ladies’ handicapped bath/shower room and I’m told the construction crew will do the rest of the work within 90 days. I expect that the ultimate effect will be that we wind up with half as many showers for bike commuting as we had, and that there will be no nursing mothers using the facility at the early morning times we bike commuters WOULD have been using it (we typically hit the showers between 7 and 8AM and those showers are WONDERFUL this time of year).
WE STILL GOT IT PRETTY GOOD
Certainly, this will not be the end of the world for bike commuters at my building – we’re a small group, and we can arrange our arrival times to minimize shower conflicts, but it seems silly to require companies to spend money to make things worse for some without making them better for anyone, and not providing any means for using common sense. I suspect the “no bathroom” provision was put in so that restrooms are not designated as nursing mother rooms (some states have found it necessary to prohibit designation of restrooms and toilet stalls as nursing areas), and I entirely sympathize and agree with that intent. I do, however, wonder what nursing rooms have to do with healthcare reform in the first place. I never imagined we’d have nursing mothers coming after us bike commuters, prying our shower controls out of our cold, dead hands.
OREGON STICKS IT TO CYCLISTS
Oregon is often considered as a Mecca for things bike related. Ironically, the author of the “nursing mother rip out the cyclist shower amendment” is a man from – Oregon…
Wall Street Journal - including a link to the actual text of the amendment, and the rest of the bill as well
CNN - cheerleading article - "ain't this great for nursing mothers?"
Both articles fail to mention that the "other than a bathroom" provision allows no consideration that there are bathrooms that are like the stinky ones at rural gas stations in the middle of nowhere, and ones that would make your master bathroom at home seem tawdry. Designation of a private, single occupant, 9ft X 12ft lockable bathroom, that contains a couch and table, violates the law.
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