Widespread scepticism about Greens’ new cycling project

A heated debate has erupted following a radical traffic reform idea by the Viennese Greens.

The party said on Wednesday cyclists should be allowed to cross junctions or turn right at red light in some cases. Special traffic lights could be established to introduce the model used in other European cities, the Greens said. Christoph Chorherr confirmed that his faction was working on turning such a concept into reality but also pointed out that this part of the Greens’ initiative for more cycling in the city had no priority. Chorherr is in charge of the Viennese Green Party’s cycling agenda.

Now it seems that the Greens are further away from introducing this right of way rule than they might have thought. The Social Democrats (SPÖ) – the strongest faction in the city hall and coalition partner of the Greens – reacted sceptically. The faction, which is headed by Mayor Michael Häupl, announced that it was not in favour of the idea since it contradicted established traffic rules. “We teach children not to cross the road at red,” a spokesman for the SPÖ Vienna underlined.

The negative response by the Viennese department of the People’s Party (ÖVP) was less surprising. The conservative faction of Manfred Juraczka warned from “grey areas” and high uncertainties if accidents happened at such crossroads. The party – which wants more attention for the demands and worries of drivers in times of more cycling and soaring fuel prices – appealed to the Greens to abandon their plans. The ÖVP Vienna claimed that such a reform could also pose a risk to cyclists’ safety.

Other ideas of the Greens regarding traffic in Vienna also found little acclaim among the city parliament. ÖVP and Freedom Party (FPÖ) reject the plan to abandon a law which says that cyclists must use cycling paths where available. The fact that the ruling is a federal concern makes lifting it more unlikely. Furthermore, the SPÖ is not openly supportive in this concern either.

Greens Vice Mayor Maria Vassilakou received the SPÖ’s go-ahead to increase the capital’s network of cycling strips by 20 kilometres (km) to almost 1,220 km in the coming months. However, several SPÖ district chiefs plan to veto the urban planning councillor’s initiative for more 30-km-per-hour zones. ÖVP district heads are against the Athens-born left-winger’s project too.

Around one in two Viennese households own one bicycle or more, according to research. More than 7,700 bikes were stolen in the city in 2011. Cycling claims a share of five to six per cent in the overall volume of individual traffic in Vienna. The SPÖ-Green Party city coalition declared at the beginning of its partnership in 2010 that the goal would be to raise the rate to 10 per cent at least by 2015.

Bregenz in Vorarlberg registers the highest share of cycling among Austria’s nine provincial capitals with 19 per cent. Styrian capital Graz and Salzburg are tied in second place at 16 per cent, the Austrian Traffic Club (VCÖ) explained. Chorherr said that Vienna must become Copenhagen in terms of cycling. Cycling claims a share of 38 per cent in traffic in the capital of Denmark.