Does anyone know how the speed of pylons(or any of the other frameworks) compares to a similar website made with php?
I know that serving a python base webpage via cgi is slower than php because of its long start up every time.
I enjoy using pylons and I would still use it if it was slower than php. But if pylons was faster than php, I could maybe, hopefully, eventually convince my employer to allow me to convert the site over to pylons.
It sounds like you don't want to compare the two languages, but that you want to compare two web systems.
This is tricky, because there are many variables involved.
For example, Python web applications can take advantage of mod_wsgi to talk to web servers, which is faster than any of the typical ways that PHP talks to web servers (even mod_php ends up being slower if you're using Apache, because Apache can only use the Prefork MPM with mod_php rather than multi-threaded MPM like Worker).
There is also the issue of code compilation. As you know, Python is compiled just-in-time to byte code (.pyc files) when a file is run each time the file changes. Therefore, after the first run of a Python file, the compilation step is skipped and the Python interpreter simply fetches the precompiled .pyc file. Because of this, one could argue that Python has a native advantage over PHP. However, optimizers and caching systems can be installed for PHP websites (my favorite is eAccelerator) to much the same effect.
In general, enough tools exist such that one can pretty much do everything that the other can do. Of course, as others have mentioned, there's more than just speed involved in the business case to switch languages. We have an app written in oCaml at my current employer, which turned out to be a mistake because the original author left the company and nobody else wants to touch it. Similarly, the PHP-web community is much larger than the Python-web community; Website hosting services are more likely to offer PHP support than Python support; etc.
But back to speed. You must recognize that the question of speed here involves many moving parts. Fortunately, many of these parts can be independently optimized, affording you various avenues to seek performance gains.