BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- With an extensive indoor gym and weight room built in to their Seventh Avenue South headquarters, Brasfield & Gorrie employees already have plenty of exercise options.
But a hearty few of them spent a recent midday break outdoors, donned helmets and mounted the company's five new bikes kept in storage near the company's parking garage.
There, they got a refresher course on the safety basics of being a cyclist in traffic from Tom Garrett, the company's chief safety and human resources officer and an avid cyclist.
Then, it was time to go -- some riders wobbling slightly for what was their first time on a bike in a while. But it didn't take long to get the hang of pedaling, braking and stopping on a few coasts around the lower level of the parking deck.
"It comes back to you, you know, 'just like riding a bike,'" employee Eric Atkins laughed.
The refresher course was in preparation for Brasfield & Gorrie's part of the Lakeview Business Association's new bike sharing program. Employees can now check out bikes to use for lunch, errands or just some recreational exercise during the day.
On Friday, the Brasfield & Gorrie group, along with participating employees from St. Vincent's Hospital, will do their inaugural group ride along Lakeview streets to a lunch meeting at Pepper Place.
Businesses in Lakeview, which stretches from the Red Mountain Expressway eastward from downtown, have partnered with the Alabama Bicycle Coalition to create the bike share.
"Through this program, we're able to introduce cycling to people who perhaps haven't thought about getting on a bike in a long time," said Stan Palla, coalition executive director. "And we're able to do this in a manner that makes it approachable and accessible."
Lakeview got some pointers on starting the program from Alabama Power, which established its program in 2012.
The goals, the businesses say, are to increase awareness of local businesses, promote health and environment benefits and ease the parking crunch for businesses, restaurants and nightspots in the area.
Bike sharing also meshes with plans to install a trail for runners and riders through Lakeview, linking the area with downtown and points west said Wendy Johnson, business association director.
"The Lakeview district is blessed with strong corporate citizens who employ thousands in the area," Johnson said. "A challenge for us was finding a way to bring these people out of their buildings and into the streets and businesses of Lakeview to create a more vibrant district."
BBVA Compass and Sloss Real Estate's Pepper Place development also are participating in the program.
Some businesses, including Brasfield & Gorrie and St. Vincent's, are integrating the bike share into their corporate wellness programs.
"It is an investment in the wellness of our associates and an investment in the growth and development of the Lakeview District," said Nan Priest, executive vice president and chief strategy officer of St. Vincent's Health System.
Bike sharing programs have appeared in several cities as ways to curb traffic congestion, promote fitness and help the environment.
Biking Birmingham's streets can be a bit intimidating for the inexperienced cyclist, which is why Brasfield & Gorrie offered interested employees the chance to learn from an experienced rider before launching the program, company corporate communications coordinator Meg Burton said.
With major streets such as Third Avenue South and Fourth Avenue South bisecting the district, Lakeview gets its share of commuter traffic.
There also are few bike lanes in the area -- which also can be said for metro Birmingham as a whole.
Still, there is a robust cycling community in the city, Garrett said, and in his experience, the city's drivers largely are friendly toward cyclists who obey the rules of the road.
Downtown Program Studied
Even though such programs put a number of less-experienced cyclists on the streets, Garrett said he doesn't think added bike traffic would result in as big of a learning curve for Birmingham drivers or riders as many may think.
He thinks an effort by the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham to bring a public bike sharing network to downtown would work, he said.
Many Lakeview Business Association's members are represented on the planning commission's committee looking into establishing a downtown bike share program in Birmingham.
"I think grassroots bike share efforts like these will demonstrate what we believe to be true: If you give people access to bicycles, they will use them," planning commission deputy director Lindsey West said about the Lakeview program.
A feasibility study is under way on the downtown plan, and a meeting to get public input has been scheduled at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at AIA Birmingham Design Center, 109 S. Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd.