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Why This Louisville Engineering Firm Is Embracing Bicycles

Stuck in standstill traffic on the Second Street Bridge about four years ago, Mike Sewell got angry, abandoned his car and started walking to work.

As he headed across the bridge into downtown Louisville, running late for a meeting and fuming, he heard the faint ring of a bicycle bell. A cyclist rolled past and proclaimed, "Isn't this a beautiful day."

And it was a beautiful day, Sewell recalled. But in his state of fury from a stalled commute in a car, he had failed to notice.

"That was the turning point," he said.

The next day, Sewell rode his bike to work. Now, standing in his office on the 14th floor of the PNC Tower in downtown Louisville, Sewell is surrounded by bikes.

He is a senior managing partner at the engineering firm Gresham, Smith and Partners — the most bicycle-friendly business in the state, according to the League of American Bicyclists.

The League last week released its seasonal list of U.S. businesses that support bicycling. Just two are based here, and one of them is the Louisville Metro Development Center. The other Kentucky businesses that made the list are in Lexington.

Amelia Neptune of the League of American Bicyclists said Gresham, Smith and Partners is making strides in promoting cycling culture in a city and state with a reputation for low support for bicycle commuters. She said the firm made the list because it's in close proximity to the city's bike lanes, gives employees access to free bike tune-ups, and reimburses workers for participating in organized bike rides and bike-to-work programs.

"They've got more bike parking spaces than they do employees, so that's a really good sign," Neptune said.
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Sewell said the firm chose to pursue certification for a few reasons. For starters, he said the dozen or so employees who commute by bike regularly show up refreshed and ready to work.

It's also a good way to stay fit. Employees who choose to ride their bikes to work can log in to ride-tracking apps to record how much they ride, how many calories they burn and what commuting by bike is doing to reduce the company's carbon footprint.

Since Sewell began keeping track in April, the employees of Gresham, Smith and Partners have burned nearly 30,000 calories, he said. The emphasis on cycling has cut the firm's total carbon footprint by nearly 18 pounds, he said.

It also saves employees money. "Since I've started biking, I've saved, like, $4,800 in parking alone, which is awesome," he said.

Sewell said the company also promotes its cycling culture as a tool to attract young, talented employees. And it seems to be working.

Louis Johnson, 30, said one of the reasons he took a job at Gresham, Smith and Partners in November was the way the company accepts and encourages cycling.

"If you're trying to attract that kind of creative class and pull them away from Chicago or New York or Cincinnati or Indianapolis, you're going to have to be able to compete in that kind of way," he said.

Sewell said millennials are key to growing not only the firm but the city. He said he'd like to see more businesses seek certification from the League of American Bicyclists and make it known that Louisville has robust lifestyle choices for young workers.

For Neptune, the more businesses that seek out bike-friendly status, the more pressure grows for local government to boost its cycling infrastructure.

Louisville is already taking steps in that direction. Mayor Greg Fischer has set aside $300,000 for bike infrastructure this fiscal year. That means more bike lanes and paths, and easier options ditching the vehicle for the bike -- like Sewell did four years ago.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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