Getting out of town often has a tonic effect on one's perspective, so it was with great anticipation that I took the wife for a visit to Chicago over the Fourth of July break. The day we arrive, the Supreme Court shoots down the city's gun control laws. Sound familiar?

What could D.C. city leaders learn from the city by the lake? Let's compare.

Chicago is the city that bikes. The paths along Lake Michigan are pleasantly busy from early in the morning until dark. Among the bikers were tourists, families, buff teens and commuters coming from south and north. But bicycles seem safe and welcome throughout Chicago's downtown and neighborhoods. We biked up to Andersonville and back with ease. We shared the streets with many others on two wheels.

The District is a biking baby by comparison. With all due respect to Mayor Adrian Fenty's setting aside lanes for bikes on Pennsylvania Avenue and other downtown streets, the Capital City has a ways to go before folks on two wheels are plentiful and accepted.

Chicago is the city that's broke; Illinois is worse. Washingtonians have just watched the mayor and city council raise taxes and fees to bring the city's $10 billion budget into balance, after expenses topped revenues by $500 million. Critics, including yours truly, said they made a hash of it. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was in an even deeper hole: Revenues dropped 17 percent last year and are expected to fall another 10 percent this year. Daley did balance his budget without raising taxes by forcing nonunion employees, including the mayor, to take 24 unpaid furlough days. Why not here?

Chicago's schools are running on empty. The system has more than 400,000 students compared to D.C.'s 40,000. Chicago schools are trying to close a $407 million budget gap and planning to lay off at least 1,200 teachers, perhaps 2,700. Meanwhile, the District is waving raises in front of teachers and hiring more. D.C.'s teachers should be happy they are not in the Windy City.

Chicago is the city that kills -- teenagers. Last year 258 students were shot, 32 fatally, on their way to and from school; D.C. city leaders could learn from a novel program that pairs school employees one-on-one with at-risk kids.

Chicago is the city that plants: the landscaping on downtown boulevards, especially Michigan Avenue, and every restaurant give the city a park-like feel. D.C. looks trashy in comparison.

We returned to the Capital City to take in the Palisades Parade on July 4. Sadly, it has been overtaken by politicians and political activists, who out numbered bands and local floats by about 2-1. Hats off, therefore, to the crazed Palisades teenagers, dressed as apples or bananas or trees and such, who launched themselves from a flatbed truck and danced like dervishes to "Call on Me."

"We won first prize for the fourth year in a row," veteran parader Kazmir "Kaz" McMahon said.

Better than anything we saw in Chicago.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Tuesday and Friday. He can be contacted at ">