I slept on Sullivan's piece and today read some of the anti-bike comments following his article. Admittedly Sullivan is better than most because he rides a bike and because his rules are really generally quite reasonable. But the comments point out a basic problem with the "bikes-should-follow-the-rules" position.
These are some of my rules:
Be nice to pedestrians when pedestrians have the right of way. Duh.
Go slowly through crowds of people.
Don't stop in the middle of the crosswalk when the crosswalk says walk.
If riding on the sidewalk with pedestrians, don't go faster than fast walking speed and don't pass people unless there's more than enough room to do so.
That's all common courtesy and common sense and it really shouldn't be to too much to ask of bicyclists. Granted, too many bikes don't have common sense and, well, shame on them. (Too many cars don't either, but that's really neither here nor there.) Old people (young people, too) shouldn't have to fear being knocked over every time they see a bike.
But the fallacy of the "bikes-should-behave-better" concept is that it assumes that if bikes followed the law, people would like bikes better. It doesn't work that way. If bikes followed all the traffic laws, a lot more bikes would get hurt and a lot fewer people would bike. Even if bikes followed the rules, people would still hate bikes. They hate our freedom. People blame bikes even when bikes are in the right. It's just human nature.
Besides, I don't want to live in a society where everybody follows all the rules. That's fascism.
No, I never try and hit pedestrians. Hell, I never have hit a pedestrian. But I'll be damned if you think I'm going to be pleasant to you when you endangers me by walking in front of me when I have the green light. If I have the right of way, I will zoom by you not caring if I startle you. Startling you isn't my goal, mind you. But I do have the light and do have to get to work.
Just because I have the light and I'm in the right doesn't mean you'll say, "Gee, my fault. I guess I should have looked before crossing against the light." No. You'll blame me for getting so close to you. Well, sorry (not really). Hate me if you want. What can I do? I get to go when the light is green. Besides, I didn't hit you.
When you're walking in a bike path and I say, "this is a bike lane." Are you going to apologize? No. You're more likely to swear at me. Fine. All I did was tell you it's a bike lane. See, I'm right, but you still don't like me.
Here's the dirty truth: bikes will never be loved . Deal with it; handle the truth. Bikes will always be blamed, right or wrong. I don't like that. But it's the truth.
Getting things done and creating a safer environment for bicyclists is not about being liked. It's about politics. Politics is not about being liked. Car drivers aren't going to voluntarily turn over lanes of traffic to bikes just because we're nice. Change happens when people with power demand it. I don't need to be loved. I just want to ride my bike and live to bike another day.
People don't need to like bikes to have the city be more bike friendly. Is the city getting more bike friendly because bikes are suddenly nicer? No. The city is getting friendly because of Janette Sadik-Khan (I love you, Janette!).
I think too many bicyclists have some strange desire to be loved: "Look! I'm doing good! I'm the solution! One less car! Love me! Be like me!" Most people don't want fewer cars. To drivers, one less car isn't a good thing, it's a threat! "One more friggin' parking space for you," on the other hand, may have some positive P.R. value.
Deal with it, bicyclists: unless you move to Amsterdam or Copenhagen, you are just a sweaty freak. The majority of New Yorkers do not consider you a progressive role model. You may feel cool when you ride your bike. But except to other bicyclists, you're not. To most, you're a novelty, a kid, a poor person, a delivery man, or (best case scenario) a lovable eccentric in a helmet.
I'm sure that when I die--and I hope it to be a long time from now and not from being hit by a car--New York, just like every other city in the world, will be car dominated. And as long as it is, "same road same rules" is bullshit.
If a car driver hates me for crossing against a red light? Fuck 'em. I don't give a damn. I'm not a role model. I'm a bicyclist.