I asked that question because we suffer a lot of bad PR. I read an interesting article today that said, in essence, that people punish members of a group who give more generously because the most generous people are nonconformists. People who choose to ride bicycles as their primary mode of transportation are outside the norm in American society. As nonconformists, I think we, too, get punished: my friends and coworkers clearly state their opinion that they think I'm nuts for riding a bike to work.
A lot of people seemed to feel on that thread that the actions of a few shouldn't be held as defining an entire class of people. Yet that's exactly what we do as a society on a daily basis. A large segment of the American population, not all, allows the actions of a few zealots to define an entire class. I’m sure at least one person, beside myself, went home and said “Some idiot on a bike hit some guy on the path today.” From there the story spreads; it’s human nature.
I live on the east side of the Connecticut River. Currently, to get to the other side, you either have to take a seasonal ferry or ride all the way into Hartford and cross the one bridge that has a bicycle/pedestrian path. The state is redoing a local bridge and adding a bicycle/pedestrian path which will make it much easier to get to businesses on the other side of the river. People here have their panties in a bunch that even $1 of taxpayer money is being spent to create a bicycle path on the bridge. The level of vitriol in the local press is really breathtaking. When people act like that DB on the shared use path who hit me, we only lend fuel to the fire for the Dorothy Rabinowitz’s and Ben Wearings of this world and make it harder to create the kind of infrastructure that supports both motor vehicle and HPV traffic.
I don't think my viewpoint stems from an "inferiority complex" as one poster commented, but rather a defensive position derived from numerous encounters with drivers who, for one reason or another, see fit to use their vehicles as weapons. When I see somebody on a bicycle acting badly, it bothers me because we are already working from a position outside the norm. Acting badly only serves to perpetuate that and make it harder to bring bicycling within the norm.
Someone else commented about drivers not worrying about giving drivers a bad name. I sat at the outside local coffee shop the other day with some friends and watched car after car after car blow through the stop sign. Some slowed down and paid lip-service to the sign, others just blew right through like it didn’t exist. When I commented, everybody rolled their eyes: there goes the old coot again. Again, it comes back to behavior that’s accepted because it’s within the norm and behavior that’s punished because it’s outside the norm.
That’s why I use hand signals, stop at stop signs, and ride courteously and defensively. If we chip away at it little by little, eventually it may become accepted. Then along comes the DB on the path who in one split-second of DBgery wipes it all away.
So, do I give cyclists a bad name by wondering what I wondered? I know you’re just being glib, but having lived in Europe and had my non-carcentric lifestyle be the norm, I would really like to see a bicycle accepted as just another way to get from point A to point B and not be viewed as a crank or a kook for doing so.