Many people shared their holiday cycle impressions on social media all through the summer. I found it very interesting to see what people visiting the Netherlands showed to their home front. Now that the holiday season is coming to an end, with September rapidly approaching, I would like to share some of my own holiday impressions in this “short-post week”. At the beginning of August, I spent four days in Vienna. I’ve now visited the capital of Austria three times in the past four years. Of course, being a Cycling Ambassador, I cannot not look at a city’s infrastructure and things did catch my eye in Vienna. My camera is then never far away…
Without knowing too much about the transport policies some things do stand out. Although there seems to be a huge volume of motor traffic (far too high in my opinion), I did see a lot of cycling in Vienna (even though I only spent most of my time in the city centre). There seems to be a healthy mix of men and women of all backgrounds and a wide age-range of people on bicycles. Vienna also has a bike-share system that is very visible and obviously well used. Vienna has an extensive public transport system (of which the trams are most visible) and some of the city centre streets have been pedestrianised, sometimes very recently.
A quick internet search revealed that Vienna is a city trying to change its transport system. The city is growing fast to two million inhabitants, so it needs to switch to a more space efficient means of transport that uses up fewer resources. Contrary to what it looks like on the streets, the private car is not the dominant form of transport. In the last 20 years, measured by modal split, the car has been surpassed by public transport. It was good to find out the city wants to decrease car use even further. In a plan for 2025, dating from 2014, the city explained its transportation plans (PDF in English!).
“In coming years as in the past, Vienna’s traffic and transport policy will systematically promote eco-friendly means of transport (public transport, walking and cycling). Translated into modal split figures, the goal is “80-20”. This means that, by 2025, Vienna’s population should travel 80 percent of all trips with public transport, by bicycle or on foot, while the share of motorised individual traffic is to be reduced to 20 percent.”
To improve cycling, Vienna has built more cycling infrastructure. From a mere 190 kilometres, the network of cycleways had been extended to 1,298 kilometres in 2016. And it is still growing. Not all of that infrastructure was built to the highest standards and just 9.35% consists of separate cycleways (source). I also saw a lot of potential pedestrian and cycling conflicts, by design. Especially on the inner-city ring, where the cycle maps show separated cycling infrastructure. Those ‘cycleways’ turn out to often only mean paint on the areas for walking, also switching from one side to the other. Sometimes the space is completely shared with unclear signs, so nobody really knows where what should take place exactly. For a city where walking is such an important means of transport (and with a lot of tourists) it would be best if walking and cycling each had their own space, preferably at the expense of the private car. That inefficient machine gets far more space than is reasonable, judging from the mode share and the city’s own transportation plan.
One thing that struck me in Vienna was the absence of children on a bicycle. It may have had to do with the fact that there were holidays or that the city centre is not the best area to see children cycling. But maybe the Austrian law also has something to do with it. You are only allowed to carry one child on your bicycle when you yourself are at least 16 years of age. Children up to 8 years old must be carried in a seat at the back of the bicycle only. Children under the age of 12 are not allowed to cycle by themselves. They can do that two years earlier, but only if they have a bicycle license, that they need to pass an actual test for. That is putting up a lot of barriers for children’s cycling. If the Netherlands had such laws many Dutch parents and children would be braking these laws! A shame they exist, because to increase cycling you need more people cycling and the younger you start cycling the more it becomes part of your daily routines that you won’t easily lose in the rest of your lifetime.
The automated bike share system in Vienna is very interesting. Started in 2003, CityBike now has 121 stations, that provide well over 3,000 spaces for the 1,500 bikes that move around all over the city. A full station will be a rarity with these figures. More than a million rides were made in 2016. And with 130,000 new users (an increase of 21% compared to 2015) the system is growing fast. Possibly because you can now also use your smart phone to operate it. (Data from the CityBike 2016 annual report.) You hurt some Viennese people when you say the system looks a lot like the one in Paris (that was started in 2007). That is not so strange, but it is the other way around! Paris copied the system from Lyon (started in 2005) that in turn copied this system from Vienna.
I never cycled in Vienna, I could have seen myself cycling there, but I was able to reach everything on foot or by public transport. I am curious if the plan to reduce private motor traffic will become more visible in the streets. To me Vienna feels very much like a car city up to now. I would love to see that change.
My video portrait of Vienna.