Militant Cyclists and Tree Murder
An answer to 1st District Council President Ursula Stenzel’s fear of ‘luxury’ bike paths
In response to 1st District Coucil President Ursula Stenzel’s ÖVP appeal protesting “tree murder” and the annihilation of parking spaces on the Ringstraße to make way for a “luxury bicycle path”. (Der Standard, 20 Aug. 2012)
Dear Ms. Stenzel,
First of all, just like you, I ride a bike, and I know all the advantages it brings me. I am healthy, strong, and do not contribute to air pollution. And I have been using the Ring “bicycle path” for more than 25 years.
In the 1980s I was hit by a car in front of the Burgtheater. I was riding on the bike path when a big black BMW was turning right onto the Ring. Luckily, although I was lightly injured, I survived to tell the tale, and in fact, there was more damage to the front of the car than to me.
But to add insult to injury, I was legally forced to pay for the repairs on the car that hit me. I should say, to pay the driver who hit me – who was a bigwig from an advertising agency and had a previous conviction for hitting a pedestrian. This time he was lucky: I was bicycle rider on a bike path. In 1988, the law was on his side.
That right-of-way law changed within the year, but it goes to show you: Cyclists have had a long, hard ride in Austria.
Madam Councilwoman, I really am gratified to read that you also have a bike; I assume you also ride it in the 1st District, since that’s where you have your mandate. But I am a bit puzzled: What are you upset about? About trees supposedly being chopped down on the Ring? About “militant” Green Party members who think that there should be more bicycle riders in Vienna? About too few parking spaces downtown?
All of the above, it seems, although you have your facts wrong about the trees. According to Vienna Councilman Christoph Chorherr, just one large tree will be taken down, plus a second smaller one that is diseased. Otherwise it’s just maintenance as usual. But Ms. Stenzel, you really do seem upset about the 91 applications from the Municipal Gardening Administration (Stadtgartenamt) lumberjacks. I assure you, one of the best things about Vienna is the city garden office. They not only really know about taking care of trees, but they even know how to beautify every square inch of Vienna that has some available dirt. And I trust the MA 42 if they say a tree needs to be felled. Don’t worry, they’ll plant a new one, quicker than you can say Jack Robinson.
But I have another question: Have you ever tried to ride your bike all the way around the Ring without endangering a single tourist who was trying to walk along the sidewalk? The Ring Radweg is really something to be upset about.
Luckily, the Viennese know that they have to be ready to jump at any time when walking along the Ring. Most of its “bicycle paths” consist of a couple of painted lines on the sidewalk – it’s a slalom course around trees, subway entrances, signposts, and Würstlstände. The pedestrian walk ways are combined with cycling lanes.
But what is this rumour about a “luxury bike path”? Yes, I know that 400 parking spaces would be sacrificed if a proper bike path were built. Actually it wouldn’t have to be “built”: Much of the Ring already has a wonderful second inner lane, separate from trams, pedestrians, and car traffic. But that would require giving up parking spaces!
I am, just like you, highly civilised when riding my bike. And just like you, I happen to work at a well-known Austrian institution, so I do wear the appropriate clothes when riding my bike to work. Not to look “schick”, as you describe it: I am just going to work. I also try to get there on time, so I ride quite quickly, and admittedly, I do have a few sportliche ambitions. But I have never intentionally threatened a pedestrian. I have never threatened a car, except when one tried to run me over. And I have certainly never, ever threatened a tree.
No, every morning on the way to work, I count the Ring trees, who have been my companions for so many years. And yes, I love them. So am I a militant cyclist? I suppose so. I certainly am hoping for the Ring’s luxury bike path. And I think the trees are waiting too.
Cynthia Peck studied cello at the University of Southern California and at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, as well as Musicology at the University of Vienna. She currently works at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. She has been using a bicycle as her major means of transportation since she was 14 years old.