One of Jane Jacobs’ main interests was taming traffic. When she wrote her masterpiece The Life and Death of Great American Cities, one of the most influential urban planning books of all time, the prevailing wisdom was that cities should be redesigned to facilitate automobile traffic. In practice this meant widening streets, building parking garages, and forcing freeways directly into the city centres.
She was among a small group of people who quickly recognised that these policies were destroying the intricate social and economic networks cities need by eliminating the personal interactions and spontaneous connections that happen on streets filled with pedestrians. Improvements designed for automobiles pushed pedestrians to the sidewalks, made cycling more dangerous, slowed public transport, and encouraged those rich enough for cars to leave.
Vienna wasn’t immune to this age of automobile focused planning. A freeway was planned through the Naschmarkt to Karlsplatz, the Ringstraße, Gürtel, and Zweierlinie were re-built to move more cars, parking was increased, and policies encouraging people to drive, like company cars and the Pendlerpauschal, were made law.
Like all great cities, residents of Vienna rose-up to fight the worst elements of auto-focused planning. They stopped the Naschmarkt Freeway. They stopped the freeway planned through Brigittenau after seeing the Floridsdorfer Brucke, part of the original plan.
But the fight for sensible transport planning continues and it’s intensely political – as we see with the Stadtstraße, Lobau Tunnel, Vienna’s pitiful cycling network, and the battle in every neighbourhood against removing a few parking spaces – despite Vienna’s progressive political image.
On this walk we’ll see examples of auto-oriented planning and new ideas for more sustainable transport planning in Vienna. We’ll talk about the impacts of auto-focused transport plans and technology, and how to create a more human-friendly transport network that supports a more sustainable and economically successful Vienna.
In this walk we’ll talk about opportunities for making transport in Vienna better, but we won’t forget that Vienna really is the world’s most liveable city. Our public transport system is second to none, and Vienna is working hard to improve its sidewalks and cycle paths (just not fast enough!).
And, we need to remember that when we criticise facilities like the Ringstrasse or Zweierlinie cycle paths – these are 20+ years old! We should honour the people and elected officials who worked very hard to achieve these critical first steps – and let them inspire us to go further.
It’s time for Vienna to join cities like Paris, Copenhagen and New York – boldly implementing new strategies for sustainable transport. We hope this walk spurs your imagination, sparks your interest, and gives you energy for the hard work ahead. And, if you are ready to help please join the Radlobby Wien (cycling) and Gehe-doch-Wien (walking)!
- Historic street pattern: pedestrians, multi-use streets, slow.
- Horses were the great environmental problem of 1900, no wonder planners embraced automobiles!
- Rotenturmstraße Begegnungszone (slow street) – supported by businesses!
- Great history reference and photos: https://www.wienschauen.at/wie-der-stephansplatz-wieder-schoen-wurde/
- Construction of the U-Bahn, started 1969.
- Pedestrian zone replaces streets filled with cars and parking (can you imagine cars here now?).
- Economics: Cars don’t buy things, people do (TU Professor Hermann Knoflacher).
- Great success!
- Hard to believe this used to be a parking lot!
- Rebuilt into pedestrian zone 2022. Best practices of contemporary urban design.
- Der Neue Markt mit der Kapuzinerkirche (1957)Parking garage built underground on four levels.
- 20 years in planning with much petty politics.
- Cost: 60 million Euro for 364 autos and 39 motorcycles = 164,000 Euro/space.
- Monthly parking cost: 560 Euro = 18.50/day (90 spaces for residents: 189 Euro/month = 6 Euro/day).
- Source: https://www.derstandard.at/story/2000138869461/neuer-markt-wiens-umstrittenste-garage-ist-fertig
Parking in Cities
- In most cities the amount of space dedicated to streets and parking is over 1/3! Is this really the best use?
- Vienna’s Neighbourhood Oasis program helps local groups convert parking spaces to more human uses!
- Parking in Vienna, like most cities, is under priced (although drivers don’t think so!).
- Note that street parking is free on weekends, so, no wonder people drive.
- How much does parking really cost?
- Who should pay for it?
- Should people expect to have free parking near their home or business?
- How does low priced parking encourage driving?
- Famous statement: “There is no shortage of parking, only free parking!“
- Read more: The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup (Wikipedia article).
Burggarten – Goethe Monument – Opernring
- Importance of greenery to cities.
- Goethe Statue: every parking space is sacred
- Pedestrian – Cyclist conflicts.
- Solutions: contraflow cycling in Goethegasse, replace parking around statue with sidewalk/cycle path, make Opernring side street into cycle street & reduce parking.
- The Ringstraße was built in the location of Vienna’s historic fortifications following a decree by Emperor Franz Josef I in 1857.
- Massive urban redevelopment project: selling Glacis land paid for civic buildings like the Staatsoper.
- Identity crisis: not a great street, but a street with great buildings on it.
- Traffic sewer: high volumes (why?), high speed, massive environmental impacts.
- Cycle paths are embarrassing: too narrow, zigs and zags, conflicts with pedestrians.
- Should be Vienna’s urban treasure but ruined by traffic.
- Ringstraße Vision Planning Study (2015) see Gehl Architects (The Vienna Ringstrasse – A world-class street) and Barcelona Regional (Ringstraße: a comfort street. A place to stay. A place to meet.)
- History: was a pedestrian underpass, now nightclub.
- Pedestrian underpasses on Ringstraße: 1960s strategy to support automobile traffic. Well done in Vienna, but in many cities, these are dangerous and unpleasant. Therefore, the strategy is frowned upon in contemporary urban transport planning.
- Notice how passage building interferes with cycle lane and creates conflicts. Could it be removed?
- Key recommendation in Ringstraße studies: more pedestrian surface crossings!
- Traffic signal timing: how does it affect pedestrian / cycling attractiveness?
- Traffic signals are often unconsciously planned to prioritise automobile traffic, what if we decided to prioritise cycling and walking?
- One idea: Reduce time / left turn lanes given changes to Mariahilferstrasse Begegnungszone.
- Another underground passageway (U-2 Station).
- New cycle path on Getreidemarkt well designed.
- Begegnungszone, a street as an activity zone shared by pedestrians, cyclists and motor traffic, similar to the historic use of urban streets.
- Many drivers don’t understand how they should drive (e.g., speed).
- Massive political battle was only narrowly won in 2014.
- Surprise: key opponents (Wirtschaftskammer, businesses) now want city to build Begegnungszone on their streets (and have even contributed to building costs: Herrengasse, Rotenturmstraße).
- Can you imagine the street in 2015 filled with cars, parking and pollution?
- Der Standard newspaper article: Mariahilferstrasse celebrates 5th anniversary (2020).
- City of Vienna: Mariahilfer Strasse Neu (https://www.wien.gv.at/stadtentwicklung/studien/b008433.html)
- History: name Zweierlinie comes from the suffix 2 which was placed after the tram line letter for trams which traveled on this street around the center of Vienna (no “2” after a tram letter meant the tram traveled around the Ringstrasse). See https://www.geschichtewiki.wie
- The tram tracks were moved underground into a shallow subway starting in 1966. They were converted to the U-2 in 1980. Today the line is being converted to the new U-5 line (open 2025).
- Wikipedia article on Zweierlinie.
- Zweierlinie as complimentary traffic sewer to Ringstraße.
- Cycle path on Museumplatz is crowded, narrow, and unpleasant. But, it was a big achievement because when the street was rebuilt in 2001, there was no cycle path planned. The Neubau Berzirksvorsther Thomas Blimlinger succeeded in convincing the city to add the cycle lane and creating a citywide cycling infrastructure fund. See: https://www.derstandard.at/sto
ry/574609/noch-heuer-baubeginn -fuer-zweierlinien-radweg-in- wien-geplant
- Much reduced traffic due to U2/U5 construction is huge opportunity expanding the cycle lane and reducing traffic lanes here. See: Grünen concept for Zweierlinie 2023.
- See also Agenda Neubau Museumstrasse Radweg.
Maria Theresa Platz – MuseumsQuartier Pedestrian Crossing
- Pedestrian beg button traffic signal control. (Note: Vienna is removing these now!)
- Often leads to long wait times for pedestrians (many of whom don’t realise they should push the button!)
- Long pedestrian wait times are dangerous because pedestrians learn to ignore traffic signals (think they are broken).
- What if we planned traffic signals to encourage walking and cycling rather than driving? For example: new STiVO: cycle right turns on red signal, countdown signals.
- Particularly sad: huge tourist demand here, reduced traffic (U-2/U-5 construction); a more creative timing plan and traffic sensors could improve traffic for everyone.
- Complex design problem: pedestrians, cyclists, trams, buses, motor vehicles.
- Explicit priority setting is critical to design.
- Too little priority given to pedestrians and cyclists, too much for vehicles.
- Why is there no decent cycle lane between Breitegasse and Ringstraße?
- Why is there no decent cycle lane on Museumsplatz?
- Why isn’t Vienna taking advantage of reduced traffic from U2/U5 construction to test improvements?
- Failure to take bold political action and to use traffic control technology wisely.
Low-stress Cycling Networks
- Physically separated cycle paths like this example from Paris make everyone feel safer and encourage less courageous people to ride.Many people will not cycle on routes with high stress sections like this.
- Would you feel safe cycling here?
- Low stress bicycling and network connectivity (Mekuria, Furth, Nixon, 2012)
- Huge increases in cycling when “complete” networks built (e.g., Seville).
- Global Street Design Guide: Cycle Networks.
- One way couplet with Neustiftgasse: created by making two adjacent streets one-way to facilitate the flow of motor vehicles (traffic signals support “green wave”).
- Traffic sewer: environmental impacts of motor traffic.
- Speeding despite 30-kph speed limit (lax police enforcement, why?).
- Relationship: higher speeds = worse injuries to pedestrians and cyclists.
- Historic street pattern in Spittelberg.
- District saved from redevelopment in the 1975 by activists (IG Spittelberg).
- Der Standard newspaper article: Spittelberg: revitalisation instead of destruction.
- Redesigned in 2020 as part of U2/U5 project due to construction traffic.
- Best practices in contemporary urban design.
- Lively and economically thriving, despite high traffic impacts.
- Why isn’t a similar project done on the other side of Kirchegasse?
- Induced traffic is the additional traffic that is attracted to a roadway when it is improved.
- Since people choose how to travel based on travel time widening a road does not reduce congestion but rather attracts more traffic!
- The process (see slides): first the road is expanded, which reduces travel time, which attracts more traffic until it takes just as long to travel on the road than before it was widened.
- The additional traffic comes from people who were doing something else, like riding public transport or traveling at another time, deciding to drive because the travel time went down (temporarily).
- Reducing the capacity of a road has the reverse effect: it reduces traffic! This is even harder to understand and believe.
- This is why no matter how wide you build a road, there will always be congestion.
- Redesigned in 2020 as part of U2/U5 project for two-way 13A bus service.
- Begegnungszone – Best practices in contemporary planning, economic benefits.
- Busy local shopping street with frequent tram service.
- Westbahnstrasse has multiple traffic fliters (Verkehrsfilter) which stop through-traffic of motor vehicles. (blue dots in map).
- First “Climate Friendly Street” design in Vienna (2019).
- City of Vienna: “Cool Mile” Zieglergasse.
- Was planned without contraflow cycling; changed in late stage with innovative idea of using bike racks parallel to sidewalk to create refuges in especially narrow places.
- Limited space and many competing demands means community participation and creative planning.
- Blossoming of restaurants and shops: sustainable transport is good for business!
- Typical Viennese neighbourhood street.
- Two-way cycle traffic (one way motor vehicles).
- Trees planted and intersections improved over the years.
- Schanigartens and Gratzl oasis.
- In 2020 a feasibility study assessed building a SuperBlock/SuperGrätzl around Kandlgasse/ Shottenfeldgasse. Sadly not implemented.
- Cities need arterial streets like the Gürtel to provide access and move traffic.
- But, prioritising motor vehicle traffic increases air pollution and noise, creates safety hazards, reduces quality of life and delays trams.
- Delaying the (often crowded) trams reduces service quality for passengers and increases costs for the WienerLinien.
- There are many ways to reduce these impacts including: reduce number of lanes, reduce speed, change traffic signal prioritisation.
- Notice that Traffic generally flows better, and environmental impacts are minimised, by reducing speed (e.g., 30-kph).
- Example: Make this section 3-lane, move cycle lane to removed traffic lane to eliminate tram track crossing and improve pedestrian safety, move car parking off Gürtel sidewalks, create smoother flow on Gürtel by using exclusive turn lanes, reduce speed to 30-kph (slower traffic even increases capacity). See: Agenda Neubau Visionen für den Neubaugürtel.
- Also, remember induced traffic … removing or reducing capacity will reduce traffic demand as people find new ways to travel … cities especially must start using this strategy pro-actively.
- For more ideas see: An der Gürtellinie and the TU Wien Gürtel Neu transport study.
- Typical Viennese neighbourhood street: Stadthalle
- Green oasis well used by neighbourhood residents.
- Parking garage underneath.
- Nibelungenviertel neighbourhood – picturesque urban planning design.
- WienerLinien Blog: Legendary – walk through Nibelungenviertel.
- Picturesque urban planning was a reaction against the “Modern” fashion (broad, straight streets) developed in the late 1800s. A leader was Vienna planner Camillo Sitte (a street named after him is nearby!). Camillo Sitte (Wikipedia)
- Notice how nice it is! Trees, public spaces, curving streets …
- Neighbourhood was first “Neighbourhood Street” (Wohnstraße) in Vienna.
- Neighbourhood residents remain actively involved in local transport planning (Im Gräzel Wien: Space and Place).
I’m a relative newcomer to Vienna, so please contact me with suggestions, edits or comments.