Something happened on the way home from work today that had me thinking about the word “share” versus “cooperate”. Very often when you see the bike route signs, there will also be something that says “share the road”.

I don’t think people take that to heart. I have a bunch of thoughts as to why that is – maybe it goes back to childhood, when “sharing” inevitably meant that we had to give our toys to someone else who was likely no better at “sharing” than we were. So it felt like a punishment. Sharing meant that we couldn’t play with our toys.

Even when we could understand the spirit behind it, I think it still felt like a minor punishment.

So there’s that. Telling motorists to “share” the road with bicyclists feels, to them, like they have to give something up. And they do – they have to give up some speed, and a few seconds of their time. Maybe as much as a couple minutes. Oh, the horror.

What isn’t communicated is that there is cooperation going on here. Every bicyclist is one less car, especially those of us who are cycling for transportation, not for sport. The kinder the motor vehicle drivers are to the bicyclists, the less people will see cycling as “dangerous”, the more people who will choose to get on their bikes, and the less cars will be on the road.

But that’s sort of abstract, and the benefit isn’t immediate, even if that’s the spirit that is meant in the signs that say “share the road”. Really, we want to cooperate, for mutual benefit.

What it usually feels like, I’m sure on both sides, is that we’re at war. Car versus bike. It is stupid.

On the way home from work today I was maybe a mile or two from work, on the fastest road I ride on, speed limit 45mph, which means actual speed is something approaching 70. I have a bike lane or I wouldn’t be riding there. Pedaling along in the bike lane, I realized I’d just passed a box spring (from a bed) smack in the middle of the right hand driving lane. I thought for a second about how glad I was that there’d been no cars going by me as I went by it, because if they’d nudged it, or hit it straight on, that would have been really bad. For me, if not for them. But I was past it, and I had a second where I thought “not my problem.”

And then I had a jumble of thoughts in the next second, which went something like this: the beauty of being on the bike (in addition to the joy of being on the bike) is that you are so maneuverable. You don’t have this giant hunk of glass and metal to deal with. I can hop on and off in a second, and the bike is in no one’s way. The box spring is dangerous, for everyone, even though it initially appears to be a problem for only the motorists. If a motorist decided to do a good deed and stop their car and pull the box spring out of the road, they’re in more danger than I would be if I did it myself.

So, I stopped, hopped off my bike, laid it on the grass between the bike lane and the side walk, and evaluated the traffic. There were now about five cars in the left lane and one car in the right lane coming towards me. I decided to wait until they’d all gone by, since there was a big gap after them.

I was expecting the car in the right lane to get in the left lane to go around, as the others had done. I was a little worried when they didn’t seem to be doing that.

And then I realized they were slowing with their hazzards on. To be honest, I still didn’t know what their purpose was in doing this, I thought they might be getting ready to get out and help me, which wasn’t necessary as box springs are light weight and have good handholds. Not that they likely could tell from the car if it was a box spring or a mattress…

The important thing for me, in my evaluation, was that they clearly saw me and the thing in the road. So I grabbed the box spring, quickly hauled it onto the side walk, and the car was then able to continue on in the right lane, now that I’d cleared the box spring out of the way.

I propped it up against the guard rail, out of the way of everyone, and visible for anyone who might be looking for it.

As I pedaled away, I mulled over the car that hadn’t gotten into the left lane. I finally realized something that both shocked and pleased me: everything that car driver did was aimed at helping me help them. I don’t know exactly at what point they realized what I was doing – I think they were getting in the left lane at one point – but they stayed in the right lane with their hazzards on to protect me from any fast moving traffic coming from behind them.

They knew I was doing them a favor, so they did what they could to keep me safe.

Pretty damn cool.

I only wish I had figured that out before they’d gone by, so I could have acknowledged their help.

Cooperation. It cost me maybe an entire minute, and them a whole 10 seconds. Neither of us had anything to gain by our actions, other than the knowledge that we were doing the right thing.

We were acting as if we were part of a community. Fancy that.