Rain doesn’t slow city’s bike fest

Posted: September 12, 2010

More than 2,000 hearty cyclists didn't let rain slicked streets stop them from peddling around Center City at Sunday morning's Bike Philly 2010.

Riders from around the region - from the young to not so young - cheerfully put on rain slickers and plastic bags for a chance to ride from the Art Museum for seven-mile, 20-mile or 35-mile stretches without the complication of cars.

The event was started in 2007 by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia to encourage cycling in Philadelphia. Without the rain, Bike Philly typically attracts about 3,000 riders, said coalition director Alex Doty.

"Our focus has been on trying to encourage people who don't ride to get to ride in the city to do this," he said. "Seventy-five percent of the people who ride with us are not from the city."

That was the case for Medford, N.J. cyclists Brandon Beringer and Kendyl Cocco, both 17-year-old seniors at Shawnee High School.

Both ride their bikes around their suburban New Jersey neighborhood and neither was bothered by the rain.

"The rain was fun," said a smiling Beringer after finishing the ride.

"It's better than being hot," quipped Cocco.

Rachel Slotcavage, 28, a surgery resident at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, and her fiance Neil Masangkay, 27, a neurologist at the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania, have ridden in this event before.

"This is my second time," said Slotcavage. "A little thing like the weather isn't going to stop me."

She used to commute to work on her bicycle from the couple's home near Graduate Hospital, but getting over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge is a little intimidating, she said.

The rain did cause some problems for riders.

Mike Ruddy, 39, of Folsom, Pa., stood under a sycamore with his shivering children at the end of the seven-mile route, which took them through Center City and back to the Art Museum.

Still, he said, "It's a cool ride. I would definitely do it again."

Dan Seyfried, 42, traveled to the city from the Lehigh Valley with son, Noah, 2, for the ride.

"We could have kept on going but he was tired," he said referring to Noah who looked like he was on the verge of a nap as he sat in his bicycle seat.

Maggie Dahl, 63, and her husband Michael Long, 60, of Arlington, Va., decided not to ride but stood near the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to cheer riders along.

"We're in our 60s, we know better," they joked.

Kicking off the event was Mayor Nutter, who wore a red windbreaker, bike shorts, and a helmet.

"We're trying to make Philadelphia the most bike friendly city in the country," he said to cheers of bicyclists as they prepared for their rides.

The city closed streets along the routes to cars for the event, posted about 125 police at key intersections and spent the last few days filling in potholes, but couldn't take care of everything, he said.

"You know we've had some budgetary challenges. Our weather machine is in need of additional parts and equipment," joked Nutter, who also participated in the ride. "I'm sorry about the weather this morning but you are a dedicated lot."

He said he wants Philadelphia "to be the number one bike friendly city in America."

Nutter noted that the city has adapted 400 parking meters to make them easier for cyclists to lock up their bikes and is seeking funding to improve trails in Philadelphia.

Nutter's wife, Lisa Nutter, rode as well along with a group called Gearing Up, a non-profit organization for women trying to overcome substance abuse, domestic violence and homelessness.

Doty, of the Bicycle Coalition, said riding conditions in Philadelphia have steadily improved in recent years.

There are now bike lanes on Spruce and Pine streets linking the Delaware to the Schuylkill rivers which funnel bikers to the Schuylkill River Trail. The city and state have applied for stimulus money to connect bike trails running from Cobbs Creek Parkway in Southwest Philadelphia to the Schuylkill River and along the river up to Montgomery County, according to the coalition.

Doty said recent efforts to improve bicycling in Philadelphia are working. Between 2005 and 2008, he said about twice as many people are cycling around the city based on observations from coalition members who periodically count cyclists as they come over Schuylkill River bridges.

He said about 10,000 people bike to work in the city and another 35,000 ride to work at least once a month.

Contact Cynthia Burton at 215-854-2652 or cburton@phillynews.com.

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