A City on Two Wheels

The Viennese are on to a new trend as they hop onto their bicycles and peddle through the Austrian capital

City Bike Wien, launched in 2003 | Photo: Tufelix Austria

More and more Viennese are choosing to hop on a bike rather than use any other means of transport, according to a study by the City Council that came out this September. The number of cyclists in Austria’s capital has risen 40% over the past four years – a result primarily of government efforts to encourage citizens toward a more healthy, convenient and cost effective way of getting around and to reduce pollution and traffic in the city.

Cyclists in Vienna now account for 5.5% of the population, up from 4.1% in 2006, show the results of the 2009 study on social mobility in Vienna (Mobilitätserhebung 2009), published in September. The study reflects levels in five urban regions: the Inner City (districts 1-9, 20), Nordosten (21, 22), Südosten (10, 11), Süden (12, 13, 23), and Westen (14-19). In the central parts of Vienna, cyclists have already reached 8.1%, 3% more than the average citywide.

Rudi Schicker, former Executive City Councilor for Urban Development, Traffic and Transport, is hopeful that the current development of the trend may lead to a full 8% of the traffic in bicycles by 2015, reads the report. According to the new red-green coalition formally installed Nov. 15 following the city council and district council elections in October, the standards need to be even higher, thus increase cycling up to 10% in the next five years.

“In the inner districts, you find the most convenient cycling conditions in the city, slower speeds, shorter distances, and lot of points of interest,” commented Schicker on the results of the study, in a Sept. 17 interview with the Austrian Press Agency, APA.

“I don’t go anywhere without my bike,” said a 20-something man studying at the University of Business and Economy in Vienna and then added, “well, almost anywhere!” He made a one-time investment in a bike when he came to study in Vienna. “I haven’t spent a cent on transportation since,” he said.

But the people who own their own bikes are not the only ones who ‘wheel their way’ around the city.

“I don’t own a bike, and I don’t see a point in buying one,” explained a tall woman in her 40ies, while locking a rental bike at the CityBike stand at Praterstern. “I have been using CityBike Wien since last year, and it has turned out to be very convenient.”

Citybike Wien was launched in May 2003 as a test project by Schicker to find out whether a rental bike system in the city would increase cycling. Now there are over 60 stands in Vienna for people to rent and drop off the bikes as well as a simple registration process. Identification, however, has become a must that would prevent bicycles from being stolen – an occurrence very common back in the first days of the initiative. To sign up online or directly at the stands, one only needs a credit, bankomat, or one of the special cards for tourists provided by the Citybike Wien services. The 1€ registration fee can then be used as credit for a bike ride, the first hour of which is always free.

“It has really improved bike culture,” Head of the Citybike Wien Engineering Department Hans-Erich Dechant told The Vienna Review. “People often spontaneously take a bike at 2a.m. after they have left the pub. It is more practical to cycle around the city, and you don’t even have to use it in both directions.”

People also like that it is effectively free. “I ride to work and back home more or less every day, and I almost never have to pay,” added the woman from the Praterstern stand. It is also good for one’s health.

“I love it when I know that I can come out of the university, walk up to the bike stand in less than three minutes and hop on,” explained another student. “It’s convenient, and you can’t deny it’s healthy too, considering that you’ve spent all your day in the library.” A businessman in his mid 50ies seemed to share his view.

“Using the Citybikes has helped me lose an average of 17kg in one-and-a-half years,” he said and added, “on top of that it saves me 10 minutes commuting time compared to public transport and up to five more minutes if I had walked to work.”

Schicker’s gamble seems to have paid off, as more and more people are hopping onto the Citybike trend that has had 250,000 registrations since the initiative’s start in 2003. While some of those memberships are tourists’ and are no longer active, statistics indicate that the service is being used by up to several thousand people every day.

“So far, the highest number of daily users has been 2,870,” Dechant continued. “Give or take a few every month, and we come up to nearly 65,000 people a year.”

Peddling across Vienna, however, involves some risks. Last year The Vienna Review learned that many cyclists see poorly marked bike lanes as obstacles to a smooth and safe ride through the city. Austrian Eva Weidinger pointed out that some lanes simply end in the middle of busy streets, leaving the cyclist at risk from rushing traffic.

Every second bike accident is caused by a motorized vehicle, according to a report by the Verkehrsclub Österreich (Austrian Transport Club – VCÖ), published Sept. 20. The statistics, however, are positive. The total number of injured cyclists in the first eight months of 2009 was 2,938 compared to 2,727 this year, a drop of 7%.

Safety has been set as a top priority in the new transportation plan, according to the Vienna Transit Authority website (Bundesministerium für Verkehr, Bau und Stadtentwicklung: www.nationaler-radverkehrsplan.de). The goal is that Vienna should remain Europe’s safest city in transportation as well as other aspects of urban life.

“More and more people ride a bike today in Austria, and this is why the number of accidents is going down,” explains VCÖ expert Martin Blum in the report. “The more cyclists there are in the city, the more attention drivers tend to pay to them.” Moreover, VCÖ demands more cycle lanes both within the city and along highways; improving the infrastructure, they say, is the best way to reduce cycling accidents.

Most credit the expansion of the CityBike Wien project with the rapid expansion of cycling in central Vienna.  What initially started as a pilot project seven years ago, has quickly established itself as a flexible, uncomplicated and low-priced transportation system, helping Vienna to cycle towards becoming a biking capital like Amsterdam or Copenhagen.

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