Dr. Eileen Hwang: Itinerant Bike commuter and Unhappy Car Renter


By Lou Melini — Though we are a generation apart in age, Eileen and I share a few things. She grew up close to where I attended college in New Jersey and we both had our early medical training in Camden, N.J. We also have shared the “joys” of big city riding. Dr. Hwang came to Salt Lake City from New Jersey for her residency in ophthalmology at the Moran Eye Center. Despite her long hours, she has managed to frequently ride her bike to the University during her years of training. She has become a dedicated physician and bike commuter.

[Editor’s Note: This story appeared in print in 2017, but never made to the website. So here it is.]

Eileen Hwang commutes each day to the University of Utah medical complex. She notes that drivers in Utah are more respectful than drivers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Photo by Dusty Layton

Cycling Utah: Dr. Hwang, may I call you Eileen for the column?

Dr. Hwang: Please do!

C.U. During my years at Primary Children Medical Center I watched the demands placed on residents. I am immensely impressed with your choice of transportation given the hours you put in. Why have you chosen to commute on your bike?

Eileen Hwang: Cycling to work helps me fit exercise into my day, and exercise helps me to be happier and less stressed. I ride from 21st South and State St. uphill to the University of Utah. If the weather’s bad, I drive or take the bus.

In the summer, I bring a change of clothes and shower at the University of Utah gym. I prefer the winter since I don’t have to shower when I get to work. Bar Mitts and Bluetooth earmuff headphones keep me comfortable in the cold.

People constantly mock my large backpack. It contains my lunch, dinner, clothes, towel, toiletries, books, laptop, and eye examination equipment. I once realized that I put more stuff in my backpack for work than for a weekend of backpacking

C.U.: Is your commute nice?

E.H.: The best thing is that I usually ride in around 6:30am and home around 8 pm when there aren’t many cars out. I usually take 1700 S. and 1500 E.

C.U.: I can assume that your commute here in Salt Lake City is quite a bit more pleasant than it was in New Jersey.

E.H.: During medical school, I rode my bike to the train station every day. Driving was not an option due to traffic and parking issues. I had to use a folding bike because there was a rule that only folding bikes could go on the train.

I got a lot of stuff stolen off my bike over the years. At first, my bike light was stolen about once a month, but then I put unicorn stickers on it and wrote; “please don’t steal me” on it. This reduced the frequency of theft. I also had my seat stolen. Riding around without a seat is a pain!

During my third year of medical school in Camden, New Jersey I lived across the Delaware River in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia, people would yell at me to get off the road even though I was in the Bike/Bus lane. Sometimes I would try to yell back that it was a no cars lane. I’ve never been yelled at for biking on the street in Salt Lake. I also have never had anything stolen off of my bicycle in Salt Lake, which is amazing.

C.U.: Do you still ride the folding bicycle here in Salt Lake?

E.H.: I used my folding bike for a while but going downhill on 17th South was frightening. Currently I use a Cannondale road bike that my boyfriend gave me, He also got me a panniers, but I prefer my backpack because I have to carry my bike up 3 flights of stairs at the hospital.

C.U.: May I ask for a curbside consult about eyewear?

E.H.: While I ride, I just wear my regular glasses. I don’t see that many bike-related eye injuries except when people get hit by cars. It is a good idea to wear sunglasses because we live in a sunny, high elevation place, and exposure to ultraviolet light causes pterygia, cataracts, and skin cancer of the eyelids. Pterygia are when the white part of the eye grows onto the colored part of the eye and cataracts are when the lens inside your eye gets cloudy.

C.U.: When discussing your bike commuting you mentioned to me that you rented out your car. How did that evolve?

E.H.: I lent my car to my brother for a month when he was volunteering in Yellowstone. Then I realized that not having a car was preferable because it forced me to bike commute. I tried to rent my car out through the website, Turo. I made a chunk of change but the hassle wasn’t worth it.

C.U.: What were some of the “hassles”?

E.H.: One guy I rented the car to, had agreed to meet at a certain time, but didn’t show up at the house to pick up the car until after midnight. He was supposed to return the car to my friend’s house, but then he just left it in the airport parking lot! When I finally got into my car, it smelled badly of smoke.

There was another guy who kept arranging to rent the car via the website, but it would get cancelled each time because he had no money in his bank account.

C.U.: Eileen, Thank you, Thank you for your time. I had a good time discussing bike commuting, especially the New Jersey stuff.

Ed. Note: Dr. Hwang will complete her residency in June. She will pursue fellowship training starting in July in Milwaukee where she will have yet another experience in the world of bike commuting. The good news is that the Wisconsin Bike Federation reports a recent 25% increase in bike commuting in the city. The bad news is that the state legislature repealed the Complete Streets Law and cut funding for bike infrastructure.

If you have a suggestion for a commuter profile, especially from Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming, W. CO, and N. AZ, have a commuter question, or other comments, please send it to [email protected].

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