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.

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