Wednesday 28 August 2013


Mariahilferstrasse is a very busy shopping street that had to be closed to motor traffic for 3 weeks a year at Christmas due to the number of pedestrians. The Green Party have tried to turn this into a better more people friendly space. The concept was predominantly a pedestrian zone that you could cycle in.

This involved many political compromises. The surrounding streets needed to be changed so that through traffic was not routed to them. Taxis wanted to be able to pick up and drop off in the street. The Bus route went through it and deliveries to the shops were necessary. Residents needed access to their garages. None of these issues are new issues and the concept of a shopping street is not new either. However, the resulting compromise which is now being tested has turned into a war zone.

After the launch I was very keen to try it out as it is an important cycle link from the inner Ring to the Gurtel. My first impression was that it was totally wonderful. There is so much space and it is so much more quiet and relaxed now that the motor traffic and parking have nearly gone. There were lots of pedestrians walking about freely and I could cycle through in a relaxed calm manor.

In the middle streets length there is a pedestrian zone where bikes are expected to go at walking pace. This of course will never work but with some care and relaxed respect there is enough space for pedestrians and bikes to coexist without problems. It may not be perfect but it is so much better than before and creates the potential for this to become a truly fantastic urban space.

Lets not forget this used to have 2 lanes of parking and 2 lanes of motor traffic and 2 terrible door zone cycle lanes. All that space has now been relocated to pedestrians and cyclists, the occasional bus and car/van requiring access. I thought what a wonderful improvement this clearly is.

Then Vienna polarizing politics came in to effect...

The very complex law for different zones classifications in Austria means no one understands what is legal. Due to various compromises many exceptions had to be added to the zones that no one understands adding to the confusion even more. Confusion leads to personal interpretation and conflict results in order to establish clarity.

The bus drivers union said it was far too dangerous. Watch this video and decide if there is a consist safety policy.

Understandably some pedestrians do not like bikes whizzing past them. Despite the desperate appeal for cyclists to behave unnaturally the police are now employed to control the cyclists and their speed to less than 7kmph.  Interestingly no one has a problem with bikes in the other zones where there is as much space and  slightly less motor traffic and 20kmph speed limit.

Expecting the bike through traffic, that has no other usable route, to ride at walking pace is silly. The zones and exceptions are too complex for anyone to understand and a bus in the middle of a pedestrian zone is not a great idea. I am very happy to criticize technical problems with infrastructure but the battles about this space that are all over the media have nothing to do with reality. There is a political war raging that is totally out of control. This would be funny if is was not so utterly depressing and pathetic.

What would the Dutch do? I suspect this would be pedestrian zone along the length of the street with bikes allowed to use it. Through bike traffic would be routed a long the B1 where there would be bidirectional bike lanes each side of the Naschmarkt.

I suspect that this will end up with the pedestrian zone banning bikes. Cyclists will be expected to get of and walk (at walking pace), through this bit. The danger to pedestrians will be totally overplayed and individual cyclist behaviour blamed for political and planning failures. There will be no alternative thought route for bikes and for years to come there will be arguments about the behavior of cyclists who break the law.  I really really hope I am wrong.

Tuesday 27 August 2013


There is a new initiative in Austria from the that aims to put cycling on the political agenda.  Parties will be queried about their cycling policies and these policies will be analyzed and evaluated.

We have heard enough polarizing debate and incompetent technical bicycle traffic management. I am feed up with the conflict and danger this creates on the roads. We all need political parties that will do their homework and produce workable mainstream policy to make a better mobility infrastructure.  This unfortunately will not happen because it is an extremely sensible idea or their job it will only happen if it is a vote winner.  So please please sign up to the RADpublik, send them your demands, vote on the options and add political weight to the issue.

Monday 19 August 2013

Notes on Copenhagen, Hamburg and The Netherlands

This summer I visited Copenhagen, Hamburg and then cycled from Groningen to Amsterdam through the north of the Netherlands.  The key word was holiday, (rather than scientific assessment) but here are some brief notes and comments for what they are worth.


Wide cycle paths on main roads made cycling easy.  No need to plan your route because there was infrastructure where you need it on main through routes.  There were lots and lots of cycles and cyclists in the center and effectively no cars, or infrastructure. Planners had sacrificed car space for bike space, separated out motor traffic from the center and quiet streets and reduced congestion and traffic accordingly.  The junctions were consistent and it was easy to turn right and to go straight, thanks to the traffic light head start for bikes and space to the right allocated to bikes. Turning left was not always easy and the coping strategy of doing this in 2 stages was apparently the official way to do it, even if it was unclear what, were and when this should happen.

Some parts of Copenhagen were clogged up with cars.  These seemed to be poorer immigrant areas. Cars in the street were definitely not a sign of  wealth, but were a sign of affordable (and very good) restaurants.

Copenhagen was a nice place to walk and be.  The streets there are very similar to Vienna but there was much much less space for motor traffic, and parking and more for pedestrians and cycling.  Copenhagen to me shows how easy it is to transform any city from crappy car park/motorway to a nice place for people. All you need is to win, in part, the political battle of space allocation for people.  I spent a really enjoyable 24 hours cycling here and using a bike to connect with, explore and enjoy this city.


Hamburg follows the German bike infrastructure model of allocating footpath space to cycle infrastructure paint.  I did not cycle here as it was not very inviting.  I walked around a lot which was crappy too.  The parks in the center are fantastic and the idea of being able to sail in the middle of the city is a hit for me but outside this the roads were designed for racing cars.  On the famous Reeperbahn there was a sign that said it was a accident hot spot and so a 30kmph green wave existed.  For me this showed how stupid the traffic planners there are.  First they build a motorway through the middle of a drunken party zone and think that the boy racers who are drag racing each other care about green waves.  THEY ARE DRAG RACING!  They like stop / start you idiots.

I saw a crash here between a cyclist and pedestrian at a traffic light, and the ensuing argument about behaviour, space and who should be where... etc.. etc.. just like Vienna.

When eventually pedestrians got a green light they had to move fast to get across the road before the flag dropped for the next set of drag racers. I could not wait to get out of there as my ideal holiday is not standing at a red light waiting for a male with a small penis to lose control of his car and crash into me.

The Netherlands.

The Netherlands was very interesting and as in Copenhagen I started to think to myself that the motorists there are different and so much more respectful to cyclists.  It was clear that there was a totally different experience to cycling in Vienna or the UK.  I can now absolutely understand why the "different culture" label is used to explain this.  However, after some thought I think the maths explain this better.  I have a theory that 90% of people are really patient and respectful.  9% are impatient and 1% will actively try to kill you to prove a point or just for fun.  I confess that I ride thinking that every driver is in that 1% and that is why I am still alive. However, the vast vast majority of drivers are really great and do not deserve a negative label.  If you have 100 interactions with cars that are unclear and involve conflict that has to be negotiated then you will have one bad experience and 9 unpleasant ones and 90 totally fine interactions.  The trick the Dutch do is that those 100 interactions take 1000km to happen, but with poor road design you get 100 interactions every journey.  So it is probable that you will have a bad experience every journey on a bike in some cities.

What surprised me the most was the amount of separation using traffic planning.  Yes Dutch drivers are more familiar and aware of cyclists but they are also not encouraged to drag race through a drunken pedestrian party zone.  Good Traffic planning and urban design are (I would now say) probably as important as the quality of the detailed infrastructure design.

I was involved in one accident where a car driver impatiently overtook me on a village road where there was a middle black stripe for motor traffic that was not wide enough for 2 cars and red strides on each side.  This was common in villages.  I was not too keen on being a human traffic calming device.  The car over took before a bend, when they should not, and got smashed by a car coming the other way.  So there is impatience and poor judgement amongst Dutch drivers but the speed and consequences of their actions are limited by road design and traffic routing and so only some metal got bent.

Navigating by bike is very easy with the dual network of signs.  The red signs direct you to the next town along a direct route and the green number nodes lead you through the scenic routes.

Dutch junctions were more likely to have cycle infrastructure than their connecting road sections. It seemed like the junctions were important to design rather than abandoning cyclists to sort it out themselves as is popular in Vienna.  This makes sense as accidents do happen at conflict points and junctions are for sure conflict points.  Therefore design to reduce conflict and clearly clarify the situation makes sense. However, in nearly no motor traffic roads insecurity is used to reduce motor vehicle speed.

(Outside Amsterdam) waiting at red lights (even when turning left) was never a real issue. Often there were no traffic lights because they were not needed due to the tight junction corners reducing car speeds, the clear rights of way reducing the need for negotiation and the 90 degree angle between cars and bikes improving viability at junctions.  Motor traffic and bikes flowed and could cooperate with each other much better than is possible in Vienna thanks to the junction design making them meet face to face at the same speed.  Where interaction is not desirable (due to high motor traffic volume or speed) bikes are separated with traffic light phases, different routes or underpasses. Conflict opportunity reduction is clearly key to Dutch road design.

Speed is not an issue and I have never cycled as slowly as I did in the Netherlands.   I cycle at least 5kmph faster in Vienna just because of the stressful space invader video game effect.  The mopeds and many MAMILS in the Netherlands showed that you can cycle fast if you want to but frankly it is really nice to not need to.

Dutch Cycle infrastructure gets used by mopeds, mobility scooters, kids, old age pensioners, MAMILS, Velomobiles, hand trikes, cargo bikes,  trikes, e-bikes, recumbents, touring cyclists,  etc....  It is inclusive diverse mobility infrastructure.

Nearly every Dutch town center and access road is effectively car free.

New Dutch towns have better infrastructure than Amsterdam. It seems you really have to design out bikes to repress cycle use in big cities (as most European cities have done). Some of the Dutch towns have new junctions whose design is just fantastic and deserves a Noble Peace prize.

Cyclist behavior in Copenhagen and the Netherlands is often appalling but it does not matter or pose any real issue.  Cycling 2 abreast is great and you can chat and enjoy another person's company while cycling. Even if I personally find it hard to relax while doing it as a result of the years of  bullying.

The new Dutch infrastructure is much better than the old.  The Netherlands is not perfect for cycling but they are improving it every time they build a new bit of road.  It is a lot better than every other country because they design roads to be used by bikes, rather than expect them to behave like fast motorbikes or pedestrians.

Vienna does not need to change dramatically to be a world leader in bicycle use.  It just needs to get new stuff right and linearly improve the cycle infrastructure quality to get exponential cycle use growth.

One key lesson from my holiday is that bikes are a really really great way to get around and for sure more and more people will discover this.  When will Vienna's traffic planners and road designers?