Closure of Vienna Ring causes political firestorm

By Lisa ChapmanPoliticians have hit out after Vienna’s Ringstraße was shut down yesterday (Tues) to mark an EU-wide car free day.They
blasted the move – organised by the Greens and environmental
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – which saw the Ring between
Operngasse and Bellariastraße shut and covered with artificial grass
for people to picnic on during the afternoon.Vienna Social
Democratic (SPÖ) traffic councillor Rudolf Schicker said he respected
people’s right to demonstrate but did not appreciate “artificial
hindrances” of traffic.People’s Party (ÖVP) MP Ferdinand Maier
said it was “unacceptable to allow the city to be paralysed” and
Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) traffic spokesman Christoph
Hagen called closure of the Ring “a crazy idea.”Freedom Party
(FPÖ) city councillor Toni Mahdalik called the closure “environmental
idiocy” and attacked NGOs he claimed were using aggression to get
donations for their causes.And ÖVP first district chief Ursuala Stenzel called the initiative “a provocation” and an unacceptable “Green happening.”But
Vienna Green environmental spokesman Rüdiger Maresch said: “The Ring
action is an important and sensible signal of the need for basic change
in Austrian and Viennese climate and traffic policies.”He said
the ÖVP’s and FP֒s attitudes were incomprehensible and that they had
been “blocking important measures to protect the climate for decades.”Wolfgang
Rehm, a spokesman for NGO Virus, said: “Some people cannot accept that
we sinners have dared to question a sacred cow.” He called Schicker’s
position “pitiful.”The Ring was closed under the motto “Rasen am Ring,” which has the double meaning of “Grass on the Ring” and “Rage on the Ring.”Peter
Czermak from Klimabündnis Österreich, which coordinated the initiative,
said yesterday: “It is very often possible to get around without using
a car even though many people do not think so. Around half of all car
trips are fewer than five kilometres long.”The European
Commission introduced a voluntary, annual car free day in 2000. More
than 375 Austrian towns held events to mark the day yesterday.