Last week I went somewhere by car. I can’t actually remember the last time I did that.

Anyway, I got culture shock.

I know in a sort of abstract way that when you’re in a car, you’re cosseted in a well designed, complete system designed to help you get to places with the least stress or worry, but for the first few minutes it was quite startling: we came to a junction, there was a sign with three options to get where we were going. Where the hills were steep, there was a way cut through. Valley ahead? There’ll be a bridge. When we were going to the autobahn the system (and the navigator) gently guided us there along straight smooth roads. Things which I find normal, like checking google earth for cycle routes that disappear into fields, a lack of signs*, carrying three maps all the time, and being suddenly sent along hideously indirect side roads, are not a part of the driving experience. Everything is done to make driving incredibly simple.

I guess this is on my mind because I was recently at a meeting of cyclists and civil servants in Ostfildern, where we were taken to the meeting point of ‘four major cycling routes’. These turned out to be a surfaced farm track, a segregated shared bike and pedestrian route which stopped abruptly at a bus stop, a residential street with a bike painted on it, and a busy main road. If a council built a road ‘network’ like that, there would be a small mutiny. Whereas cars have a network in Ostfildern, cyclists have cycle paths.

With my usual diplomatic brilliance I suggested that a better name for this would be ‘a collection of signs and some paint on a road’.

I guess that’s why I don’t get invited to those meetings very often.

*To be fair that’s improving, and you usually can expect bike lane signs in most places, and usually the routes are safe enough, but still…