Wide support for car-free Mariahilfer Straße

Plans to turn Mariahilfer Straße, one of Vienna’s most popular shopping streets, into a pedestrian area would be well received, a poll has shown.More than six in 10 (60.3 per cent) readers of the Austrian broadcaster ORF’s news website back such an idea, whereas around 35 per cent oppose it. Votes are still coming in as the poll is not closed yet.The discussion how to reform traffic in the street, which separates the district of Mariahilf and Neubau, has been going on for some time.Former Social Democratic (SPÖ) Vienna traffic councillor Rudolf Schicker said in September he assigned a team of experts to carry out a survey to determine the best option for the road. Citizens’ initiatives and politicians previously called for the introduction of a car-free zone, or a shared space concept as well as other alternatives.Rumour has it that at least a part of the street will soon be turned into a pedestrian area have increased after Greens Vienna boss Maria Vassilakou succeeded Schicker as traffic and urban planning councillor earlier this month. The Greek-born politician also caused a stir by revealing plans to increase the number of 30 kilometre-per-hour (kph) limit zones in housing areas. The general limit within town and city borders in Austria is 50 kph with exceptions in effect around schools, kindergartens.The city’s new SPÖ-Greens coalition said it hoped to significantly increase the share that cycling and public transport have among overall traffic in Vienna during the next few years. SPÖ Mayor Michael Häupl however also stressed that his party would not start implementing policies which would make life harder for drivers now that the Social Democrats have teamed up with the Greens for the first time.Analysts already warned the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) may benefit from the cooperation and its upcoming reforms of traffic structures. The FPÖ and SPÖ have the strongest support among drivers, and SPÖ officials in Vienna’s larger districts like Donaustadt, Favoriten and Floridsdorf are reportedly disappointed that the party board decided to form an alliance with the Greens instead of approaching the People’s Party (ÖVP) for talks. They fear that measures unpopular among drivers will mean traditional SPÖ supporters will change their minds and back the FPÖ in the 2015 ballot.The SP֒s share in the city parliament was diminished by 4.75 per cent to 44.34 per cent in the 10 October ballot. The Greens suffered a 1.99 percentage point decline compared to the 14.63 per cent they garnered five years ago. The ÖVP, which won 18.77 per cent in 2005, now has 13.99 per cent, while the FPÖ improved by 10.94 per cent to 25.77 per cent.