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Bikes: True confessions

Cold weather unseats bikeheads, and there’s a War on Cars. dlp

(WITH APOLOGIES to Joyce Kilmer.)

I THINK THAT I shall never like

Anything as much as my bike.

A bike that makes me feel so free,

Because the laws don't apply to me.

I go through lights of red, you've seen,

It doesn't matter 'cause I'm green.

Your sidewalks are made for me,

And on them I park for free.

At no stop signs do I halt.

If you hit me - it's your fault.

I'll ride forever, there's no doubt.

(Or until 40, when knees give out.)

It's wonderful to quit on cars,

My kids ride on the handlebars.

Surely they won't ask for more,

When I pedal them down the shore.

That's my tale, as you can see,

It's all about me, me, ME.

In a Philadelphia Weekly column titled "Of bicycles and icicles," pedalphile Randy LoBasso (volunteer spokesman for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia) forthrightly admitted the obvious: As the temperature drops, so do the numbers of biking commuters.

To sugarcoat the bitter truth, he reports that Philly is the top biking city among big U.S. cities (true) and that bike-commuting is on an "upward trajectory" (also true, but actual numbers still scrape rock bottom).

Weather is one reason bicycles can't be a realistic, year-round alternative to cars and mass transit for most people. You want to ride, great, but stop pretending that most people want to, or will. I'll get to the War on Cars in a minute.

Weather is not the only hurdle for bikeheads and a two-wheel-worshipping city administration. There's also distance: More than 80 percent of bike commuters live within 4 miles of City Hall. Heaviest bike use is in areas of Northern Liberties/Fishtown, close-in South Philly, University City - and almost nowhere else.

Add to bad weather the age, physical condition, gender and courage of the rider. Most pedalists are under 40 and male. Please note, ladies and oldies, I said "most," not "all."

Obligatory disclosure: I do not own a car. I am not anti-bike, I am anti-bike-lane (because they are unused most of the time).

While LoBasso love bikes, he doesn't exactly despise cars.

Not true for the Inquirer's architecture critic, Inga Saffron. As a bike zealot, she betrays a revulsion for cars - their size, their weight, their pollution, their garages. Like city planners, she envisions a Brave Bike World.

The new city code, she wrote on Dec. 6, is shaped by a belief in city density. "Make things too easy for the car, the thinking goes, and you'll never reach the level of density needed . . . "

Therefore, the code "dramatically cut back on the parking required for apartment projects."

Welcome to the Philly of the future. If you are a car-owning apartment dweller, tough noogies. If they can't cajole you out of your car, they'll force you.

In the past I suggested the city is waging a War on Cars. If Saffron's interpretation is correct (and it is), there's your proof. Praise the rider, punish the driver.

Saffron acknowledges in new, blossoming neighborhoods "the competition for on-street parking has grown fierce."

Her prescription? Let's have less parking - and charge more.

She wants higher fees for parking permits (I would get rid of them except in special-needs areas, such as near the stadiums), she thinks scooters should get a price break. And bikes must park free anywhere.

With apologies to George Orwell's Animal Farm, two wheels good, four wheels bad.

CORRECTION: The publication in which LoBasso's column appeared was incorrect in an earlier version of this article.