Recently Bicycle Dutch visited Vienna and sent A postcard from Vienna with a nice portrait of the cycling here from a Dutch perspective. The post card discusses infrastructure, laws, children cyclists, CityBike share system and modal split and finishes with:
To me Vienna feels very much like a car city up to now. I would love to see that change.
Which is a bit unfair because it is shaping up to be a public transportation city as seen in the post South Vienna´s Busses: Car, Public Transport, Cycling and Pedestrian. Even pedestrian traffic is set to be the 2nd most popular mode transport bumping car traffic 3rd choice. Disappointingly, cycling traffic seems to be stuck in the single digits. Why? If the city has built the infrastructure, why do the cyclist not come? What unique problems does it face so that solutions from elsewhere have not worked?
Why does Vienna have such limited amount cyclist compared to Amsterdam or Copenhagen, or even compared to Graz or Salzburg? Here my five reasons.
There are roughly 100 ridges, hilltops and mountains in Vienna, from the highest Hermannskogel (542m) to the low (hilltop) Laurenzerberg (170m). There are river valleys that cut into the terrain and require you to cycle up and down. The highest mountain in the Netherlands is 322m, that is less than the difference between Laurenzerberg and Hermannskogel.
Compared to a flat Dutch or Danish city, Vienna will always have a harder time motivating people to cycle.
Vienna does get 2000 hours of sun every year but apart from that number, the statistics all point to a less favorable cycling city. In January the average temperature in Vienna is -4°C, there are on average 84 frost and ice days per year, temperatures drop as low as -8 to -18°C. The average temperature in Amsterdam’s coldest month January is +3°C, the last time the canals froze was 2012. Amsterdam has an average of 766mm rain per year spread over 217 days, Vienna has 678mm of rain per year spread over 93 days (= more days with heavy rain).
An average of 49cm of snow falls every year in Vienna. It did snow in Amsterdam this year but that does not happen often.
3rd Cycling Almost Completely Died Out:
Vienna had the first cycling school in the world, it was part of all of the cycling booms between 1860 and 1930. But commuter cycling was virtually eradicated by the 1970s. In the Netherlands the cycling traffic share shrank but the community still was in place. Bicycle Dutch explains in How the Dutch got their cycle paths how cycling rebounded and what role the community played. The community was missing, the culture had died out and thus government was never pressured enough to muster the political will.
It is a lot harder to start from scratch.
4th Government Policies:
It is no coincidence that the share of cyclists in Vienna dropped. It is more of a consequence of government policies. The federal and city government took it upon themselves to pass laws against cyclist interests. This combined with bike unfriendly road infrastructure and a general negative attitude towards cycling by the public and justice organs created a toxic environment for cycling. Even with the renaissance of cycling and the push to raise the traffic share, measures have mostly been half-baked or half-hearted token incremental improvements. The 1,298 kilometers cycleways in Vienna largely consists of bike lanes painted onto existing roads, often where the drains are spaced every 30 meters. The other large part consists of side streets deemed to be not that busy and thus “cycleways”.
5th the Public Transportation Network is Good:
If you look a the latest modal split of journeys for Amsterdam you will see that the share of car traffic has steadily been decreasing since the mid 90s. However it still was the 1st choice for mode of transport in 2014 with 29% (Vienna had 28%). The pedestrian share has dropped from 25% to 22% a bit below Vienna’s 26%. Public transportation ridership has stagnated in Amsterdam at 22% for the last three decades. In Vienna the share of public transportation has impressively increased to 39% in 2014. Most of the decrease in car traffic in Amsterdam has been picked up by the cycle share, increasing from 17% in the 80s to 25% in 2014.
The cycling share in Amsterdam has increased by half in the last 3 decades, the share in Vienna has doubled! All the way to an unimpressive 7%. The decline in car traffic has largely been replaced with public transportation. No wonder, if you live in Vienna you are likely to live close a bus, tram, S-Bahn or U-Bahn stop, you are likely to own a year card for 365EUR and you are likely to not bother cycling in the snow, rain, wind and heat. The cycling share is set continue to grow slowly unless the other 4 unique challenges to cycling in Vienna are solved.