How Vienna wants to become car-free

How Vienna wants to become car-free

Austria’s capital wants to ban motorized traffic from the center. But it won’t be that easy.
Vienna’s city center is to become car-free. After Paris and other European cities, Austria’s capital also wants to ban motorized traffic from the center. The green Vice Mayor and City Councilor for Transport Birgit Hebein developed the plan together with the District Head of the Inner City, Markus Figl (ÖVP).

Vienna’s Mayor Michael Ludwig (SPÖ) was not involved, however, and was accordingly disgruntled. He is now ensuring that the project can at least not be implemented before the local elections on October 11th. A closed hearing on Wednesday, at which interest groups, neighboring district representatives and the police were heard, raised objections in series. On a normal weekday, an average of 17,000 cars roll between the Hofburg, St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the city park through the narrow streets within the Ringstrasse. Coaches and larger trucks were banned from this area some time ago. Exhaust gases will still have to be inhaled in the city center, because the first drafts provide for around two dozen exceptions.

At the presentation in June, Hebein did not want to decide whether it would be 20 or 30. These include taxis and urban minibuses, but also cars that drive to or come from an underground car park, entrepreneurs with a business location in the center, employees with very early or long terms, hotels, people with disabilities, care and service services, delivery traffic.
Nevertheless, according to Hebein, “the immediate decrease in traffic will be up to 30 percent”. Not only the flowing, but also the stationary traffic will be reduced. There should be no exceptions for mopeds or electric cars.

While Hebein raved about the “first car-free city” in German-speaking countries, district head Figl was more realistic: they wanted to make the center of Vienna “largely a car-free zone”. Michael Ludwig is initially opposed to this. Noticeably annoyed by the fact that the green coalition partner went it alone with the conservative district chief, the red mayor let him know that he first had to get the opinion of the minister and the economy.

The position of the “economy” is now known. Managers of luxury boutiques, jewelry stores and other expensive establishments fear for their business if the clientele can no longer drive up in a private car. The corona crisis had hit everyone hard and sustainably. “In our opinion, the effects of an access restriction or a ban would be a catastrophe,” said the interest group of merchants in downtown Vienna. The reaction was similar four decades ago when the central Kärntner Strasse was declared the first pedestrian zone. Today it is inconceivable that stinking motor vehicles roll over this promenade.

One thing is clear: before the elections on October 11, the coalition partners try to distinguish themselves. This leads to unusual alliances. Birgit Hebein opened several pop-up cycle paths during the corona lockdown, i.e. redesignated traffic areas exclusively for bicycle traffic, much to the annoyance of the driver lobby, but also of the SPÖ.

Debates about traffic calming and restrictions on individual traffic are always fought like wars of faith. And the SPÖ, which has ruled in Vienna since the war, naturally has an eye on its electorate. Ludwig, together with the FPÖ district chief of the 11th district, has closed such an improvised cycle path again. With his objections, Ludwig has at least achieved that the traffic-calmed city cannot be implemented before the elections. Birgit Hebein would have loved to have nailed her head in August in order to be able to campaign for her clientele with this success.

However, many others want to go much further than the Greens. The traffic- critical Austrian Traffic Club (VCÖ) would also like to include the five-lane ring road in the concept. And the traffic planner Ulrich Leth from the Technical University of Vienna in the cultural channel Austria 1 points out that the key to traffic calming is the reduction in parking spaces. “The key is the parking space,” says Leth, because it is the “source and destination” of car traffic. If you reduce the number of long-term parking spaces in the 1st district, motorized traffic would also decrease. “Because if the public space still looks like it now, you don’t get much from car-free.”

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