Vienna has cycling ambassador

A traffic researcher has been named Vienna’s new ambassador for cycling.

The city government of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the Green Party decided to create the position to increase the share of cycling in the capital from the current five to six per cent to 10 per cent by 2015. The coalition announced yesterday (Tues) Austrian Traffic Club (VCÖ) official Martin Blum was chosen among 470 applicants. Blum, who will head a three-member committee for cycling from November, called the SPÖ-Greens administration’s target “very ambitious.”

Blum kept tight-lipped about precise measures he had in mind, asking for some time to prepare for his upcoming challenges. However, the 35-year-old told Die Presse newspaper today he wanted to create a more peaceful coexistence of cyclists and motorists, more courtesy on the roads and more respect for each other. Blum explained he aimed at “creating a positive spiral” and get more people to switch to using bikes as well as creating more awareness for other participants in traffic among the Viennese.

Greens Vice Mayor Maria Vassilakou has said Vienna should try to resemble Copenhagen more. The Danish capital has the highest share of cycling in Europe at nearly 40 per cent. However, reports have it that Copenhagen officials are struggling to cope with the large number of cyclists. Blum told Die Presse Copenhagen’s difficulties were “not as severe” as the media claimed they were.

The city parliament’s opposition is expected to turn their guns on the government over news that the cycling committee’s budget will be 900,000 Euros next year. The SPÖ-Greens’ spending policies have been under scrutiny by the People’s Party (ÖVP) and the Freedom Party (FPÖ) considering the city’s soaring debts.

However, the ÖVP is distracted from its fight against the coalition by party-internal turmoil. Christine Marek resigned as leader a few days ago, citing constant criticism by fellow members as the main reason. The conservative party looks back on a series of poor election performances in the city. Its strongholds are found in the Austrian countryside.

At the same time, both the federal and the Viennese department of the FPÖ struggle to shrug off their reputation of being too one-dimensional when it comes to picking their chief policies. Nevertheless, the right-wing party can look back on good results in various elections ahead of which it campaigned against crime and mass immigration.

Meanwhile, Karl Mahrer announced police would intensify their fight against lawbreaking cyclists. The head of Vienna’s police force explained 46 officers were especially watching out for delinquent cyclists. According to Mahrer, many cyclists failed to admit their wrongdoings like using sidewalks and crossing roads at red lights.

One in two Viennese households own at least one bicycle, according to research. More than half a million bikes are sold across Austria each year. This figure is expected to soar due to the increasing popularity of electric bicycles (e-bikes).