Not all liking VA hospital gate
Cyclists upset road access cut; system stresses security aspect
BY JAKE SANDLIN ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
A gate recently added at the back entrance of the Eugene J. Towbin Healthcare Center in North Little Rock has a city alderman fending off complaints from bicyclists who use the road for training. The gate, erected July 14 on the Veterans Affairs hospital’s property, is a security measure for the medical campus, said Laurie Driver, a spokesman for the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System. Before the gate was installed, she said, the hospital coordinated the closure with North Little Rock emergency responders, including police, fire and ambulance services. “We have had a few security issues,” Driver said. “The atmosphere of open campuses has changed over the last few years and we have had to adjust with that.” The gate is located at the campus entrance where Hill Road comes up from Fort Roots Drive, which can be accessed from either 18th Street or Paul Duke Drive and Julian Street. The gate is closed between 6:30 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. Monday through Friday and all day on weekends and holidays. Bicyclists usually use the hilly, twisting streets for rides and road training during the evenings and weekends and continue through the campus. Pulaski Technical College is on the north edge of the hospital grounds. “I am getting complaints, yes,” said City Alderman Charlie Hight, an avid bicyclist. “There are riders who ride every Thursday night and utilize the Fort Roots hills for training. Bikers love it because it’s a place to train. Also the view overlooking the [Arkansas] river is spectacular.” Hight added that he wants to work with hospital officials to see if the gate’s hours could be extended to 8 p.m. “Some of the bicyclists like to go that way because it’s a pretty stout climb for training purposes,” said Bob Rhoads, the city’s Parks and Recreation director. Driver acknowledged that some “bike folks are not happy about that.” “We’re not saying bikers can’t use that entrance, it’s just that the back gate is closed after hours and on weekends and holidays,” she said. The hospital granted an easement to the city through another part of its property years ago that is fenced off as a bike path, Driver said. The road isn’t part of the city’s River Trail bike path along the Arkansas River.