Cars and bikes: Perfect together?

Usually cars and bicycles go together like cats and dogs, or oil and water. But this morning outside the Municipal Building, Zipcar and the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia (along with the Clean Air Council) teamed up for an event marking the start of the second annual "Low-Car Diet" challenge. About a dozen Philadelphians signed up to go "car-free," that is, without owning a car, for a month, and even ceremoniously surrendered their keys as part of the spectacle.

At first blush, the objectives of the two organizations - one promoting cars, the other bikes - may seem askew, but organizers saw them in perfect harmony. Alex Doty, Executive Director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, said, "Personally, I've been doing car-sharing for seven years. That allows me to bike more, and it makes you stop and think about the dollar amount behind each trip."

"It's not that we're anti-car," he continued. "If you have a more balanced transportation picture, there's gonna be more biking. Look at Amsterdam - one-third of all trips there are taken by bike. Here in Philly it's two percent. So we've got room to grow. Even the highest-bike-use city in the country, Portland, is only five or six percent.

"The optimal balance of transit," he concluded, "is not necessarily one in which there are no cars. Carsharing gives people more options for their transportation, and biking is the healthiest of those options."

John Williams, a spokesperson for Zipcar, concurred: "There's a logical connection between Zipcar and the bicycle coalition. It's all about a high quality urban lifestyle and sustainable living." But he pointed out that it's really difficult to live in such a way that you absolutely never drive a car. "You can bike to work, ride public transit to work," he offered, "but you may need a car to go to Ikea and pick up the couch. Or: What if my kid gets sick at school?" He smoothly transitioned into an explanation of just how Zipcar could help you in situations like this. "If you need a car in a pinch we have them."

So whether or not car ownership takes a hit, the folks behind the Low-Car Diet seem to agree that this is a win-win for car-sharing and bike-riding alike. "Car-sharing gives people more options," said Doty, "and biking is the healthiest of those options." With the announcement of new bike lanes coming to Center City, that could translate into greater, and greener, local ridership. Two percent? Try three - or hell, maybe four and a half percent! Look out, Portland!