On cycling in Vienna

Well I have not blogged for absolutely ages, mostly because I have not had anything to blog about that other people were not blogging about anyway. I did go to Pedal on Parliament, and to the launch of the Women’s Cycle Forum, and I probably should have written about both those things, but I didn’t. So, anyway.

We (Wonderful Boyfriend and I) have just come back from a holiday in Austria, and one of the places we went to was Vienna. Almost the moment we stepped out of the U-Bahn (Underground) I discovered that Vienna has cycle lanes that are rather different to the cycle lanes I’m used to. So, over the few days that we were there I took some photos (W.B. thought I was very strange) as I thought I would write about my impressions of cycling in Vienna. As it happened, we also hired City Bikes (more on them in a bit) so I got to use the lanes as well as look at them.

(Note: I’m aware that there is a blog in English on cycling in Vienna – I deliberately have not sought it out as I wanted to give my own impressions first. I might read and comment on it once this post is done.)

The first thing to say about the lanes is that they are mixed in quality. I didn’t see any on-road cycle lanes like those that we are used to in the UK. What you get are a mixture of totally separated lanes and shared use lanes. How good the lanes are depends on how much space is available. There’s an inner ring road round the city centre – this is a nice wide boulevard, busy with traffic. In places there are rows of trees lining the road, and there’s space for a nice wide cycle lane under the trees with a separate pedestrian pavement as well.IMGP4700 IMGP4609However elsewhere on the ring road there’s a bit less space and the cycle lane is a narrow strip on its own “step” between the pedestrian area and the road. This didn’t feel very pleasant with fast-moving traffic right next to your elbow, and because it was only one bike wide it was a real problem for faster cyclists to overtake slower ones – in a British-style on-road lane the faster cyclist can simply move round the slower one (though I’ve heard of cyclists getting abuse for “riding two abreast” for doing this – there are some stupid people out there…) but you can’t move out of the Vienna lanes because there are kerbs both sides. What seemed to happen was that the faster cyclists would use the time when we were all stopped at red lights to move up.

IMGP4653A shared-use pavement – not enough space for cycling here.

These roadside lanes had their own traffic lights, small ones at cyclist eye level. Sometimes they treated the cyclists the same way as the motorists, for example if there was a pedestrian crossing then both cyclist and motorist traffic would be stopped. Sometimes at junctions the cyclists would be moving with the pedestrians, for example to cross the main road or two turn left (the equivalent of a right turn in the UK). This wasn’t usually confusing but I did at least once miss a green light because I didn’t spot it because I wasn’t used to looking for the small eye-level lights. W.B did get confused by a traffic light once – we were cycling on a road and the light was up in the air on cables between two buildings and he just didn’t notice it and went sailing merrily through a red light in spite of my yells from behind him; fortunately it was a very quiet road.IMGP4654Cycling on a pedestrian and cyclist crossing. Separation between the three modes exists here. Later, a big group on a bike tour came through and there wasn’t enough space for them all in the little waiting area.

Mention of riding on the roads will make it clear that the cycle lanes were not ubiquitous. There were a lot round the outside of the city centre and round the Prater (more on the Prater in a bit) and there were signed routes which used a mixture of lanes and quiet roads; but we had a very unpleasant time trying to cycle to the Schloss Belvedere – the road outside it had no lanes, and was busy with traffic, and had tram tracks for good measure. I found myself cycling in the door zone while being close passed at a reasonable speed (by someone cursing tourists, no doubt). Without the tram tracks I would have taken the lane, UK style (and no doubt annoyed someone even more), but I couldn’t move out because I didn’t want to cross the tram tracks. At one point one of the Fiaker (traditional horse-drawn carriages) came along and another cyclist and I just cycled slowly along behind it because no-one was going to cut us up while the Fiaker was there. W.B. actually overtook the Fiaker and then had to come back and find me because we’d overshot the entrance to the Schloss!

Some of the paths were not roadside and these tended to be shared with pedestrians. I thought they felt a bit more like some British shared use paths… there was one section which had lots of blind bends and narrow bits and which generally you had to take quite slowly because there might be someone (cyclist or pedestrian) coming the other way. This route, too, had some long waits at traffic islands to cross the main roads. However when we went over to the Donauinsel (a park on an island in the Danube, also a traffic free area) and back to the Prater we cycled some really nice traffic and pedestrian free routes. The bridges over the Danube were pretty cool – the cyclist and pedestrian area was tucked under the side of the bridge so you were totally separated from the traffic (just as well in one case as the road was actually a motorway!IMGP4722Crossing the Danube – note also the hire bike.

We were pretty impressed with the hire bikes. We’d seen them around but decided to hire them more or less on impulse. You can register on the spot with a credit card and with screens in English (we did) but it is a bit of a faff doing it on a touch screen (our touch screen was not working very well) – I’d recommend someone who thought they might use the bikes to register online in advance where it would be a lot less hassle. However the second time we hired a bike it was just a matter of putting in the credit card and a password, selecting a bike and cycling off. The bikes were heavy 3-speed, upright affairs, with a front basket, one brake lever and a back-pedal brake (I think the proper term is a coaster brake) – I didn’t like this at all to start with but very slowly started playing with it. The bike felt much less nimble than any of the bikes I’m used to, and I felt what my mother calls “de-skilled” using it – I consider myself a competent cyclist but I didn’t feel very competent or confident on this thing! I think if we’d had to fight with the traffic as well as deal with the unfamiliar bike it would have been most unpleasant, and I was very glad for the large amount of segregated routes we did use. The routes were signposted and we did find those useful.

The Prater is a large park to the north of the city centre, near the Danube. It wouldn’t be top of most tourists’ lists of places to go, but W.B. had reasons to be quite keen to go there, and the weather was far too nice to spend hours in museums, so we went. The main feature of the Prater is the “Hauptallee” – a 5km long straight – I have no idea what it was originally built for, but it is now tarmacked but essentially traffic free (apart from the odd police car pootling along – being a visible presence W.B. thought), and it is very, very popular with cyclists of all kinds from families with kids through roadies in full replica team kit to a couple of people on full Time Trial set-ups. There’s so much space on the Hauptallee that all these cyclists could do what they wanted to do quite happily without getting in one another’s way. Wouldn’t it we lovely if places like Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh could be like this, instead of full of traffic?

IMGP4724The thing with a roof on the right is a two-or-four-person pedal-powered machine – definitely something for the tourists – they looked good fun but we didn’t try one.IMGP4656

And finally – the ubiquitous photo of a cargo bike. Can’t have a cycling blog without a photo of a cargo bike these days, can we? IMGP4683