Standort: / Meldung: "The Status Quo Is Deadly "

Chris Cummins

Letters from a shrinking globe: around the day in 80 worlds.

31. 5. 2016 - 17:23

The Status Quo Is Deadly

Austrian cycling infrastructure needs more space and more investment if we are to avoid further tragedies.

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We’re talking about cycling safety today on FM4 – and welcome your contribution to the debate on Auf Laut today at 9pm: Is cycling too dangerous?

A trigger for what has been a special day of reporting was the death of a 10 year old girl who was cycling in the Viennese district of Simmering this month. What, if anything, can be changed to stop such a tragedy being repeated?

According to initial reports, the girl had a green light on a bike path junction. So reportedly did the truck driver. But, having apparently overseen her, he hit and killed her.

How could that inherently dangerous situation come about? Roland Romano is the infrastructure spokesman for the Austrian cycling pressure group Radlobby:

Is cycling safe enough?

chris cummins

"The thinking behind that is that if you increase the green light periods for cars you can move more cars along the road. There’s congestion. There are a lot of cars on the roads and they are pushed through." And that comes at the cost of those riding their bikes or moving on foot.

#RED: Cycling Infrastructure#

This is a ‘carcentric’ approach to mobility – done in the name of the economy but more realistically in the name of protecting a status quo. The streets apparently belong to motorized traffic, the needs of cyclists and pedestrians have been subjugated to the needs of that traffic. But isn’t that a muddle-headed prioritization that fails to take into account two of the major pressures on present and future economy – a double health bomb:

We hear again and again that daily cycling is so healthy it adds years to your life span, that it is a key weapon in the fight against the health epidemics of diabetes and obesity. A report in the Guardian today claimed one in three European children, aged six to nine, is either overweight or obese. That is a shocking figure. We have to create an environment where they have the possibility to excercise more. It has to be easy for them to built movement into their everyday lives.

Cycling is also seen as a key factor in combatting air pollution that is said to cause 600,000 premature deaths in Europe every year costing our economies $1.6tn a year .

Reassurance and Investment

Increasing cycling participation should be what bike blogger Doug Culnane calls "the low-lying fruit" of policy – a win-win politics that it is relatively cheap and easy to push through. But if cycling is to become main-stream, as it is in Denmark or Holland, it has to be not only safer but believed to be safer. Cyclists, and the parents of children of would be of could be cyclists need to be reassured. And that will take investment.

"In general we have a big deficit of built infrastructure for cycling in almost all cities in Austria," says Romano, "and in Vienna there is about 1/10 of the money invested in cycling infrastructure compared to cities in Denmark or Holland."

So promoting cycling is not a priority in Austrian politics but the facts suggest it should be.

Doug and Roland

Chris Cummins

Doug Culnane (left) and Roland Romano (right) discuss cycle safety.

Doug Culnane, who writes a technical blog on bike infrastructure in Vienna called CROWize, says the system to be more forgiving of human error. "The system needs to be designed in such a way that the consequences of mistakes are minimised." According to Culnane, the system that allows a contradictory double-green that apparently played a role in last week’s tragedy "is simply not a safety tolerant system." If either of the road user makes a mistake, then "the consequences will be horrendous." Culnane says that unless these situations are addressed, we are likely to see the such a tragedy "happen again and again and again."

The status quo is deadly, but the problem for town planners often seems to be resistance to any restriction on the flow of car traffic. Before former London mayor Boris Johnson left office this spring he admitted that "getting people out of cars is in fact the only way to keep London moving". Yet in London, as in Austrian cities, every parking space and every piece of road priority is hard fought over. Can you increase space for cyclists without reducing space for cars?


Chris Cummins

Honestly, are you kidding?

Radlobby’s Roland Romano says that cars and cyclists can co-exist on the existing infrastructure as long as drivers are mindful of the safety distance of 1.5 metres when overtaking cyclists. Culnane would like to see more segregated cycle routes: "You need to separate fast moving traffic from vulnerable road users, whether they are cyclists, kids on scooters or pedestrians. And you need to find different routes: one route for cyclists and one route for motorists and you need to contain the cars on the main roads."

Lessons From Copenhagen

There are positive examples for successful infrastructure out there – Doug Culnane is pushing for Vienna to adopt the lessons of Copenhagen: Every day, 55% of all Copenhageners cycle to and from work. He says that the Danish aren’t genetically predestined to cycle more than other: "In Copenhagen every main road has a proper, separated cycle path and every quiet street really is a quiet street with no through traffic. So you have segregated cycle-path cycling which is safe and fun and you have on-road cycling on quiet streets which is also safe and fun."

He says the citizens of Copenhagen don’t cycle because of any genetic predisposition or even ideology, but "simply because it is the easiest and quickest option."

People riding their bicycles in Copenhagen

AFP PHOTO / Slim Allagui

People riding their bicycles in Copenhagen. In Copenhagen, already one of the world' s most bicycle- friendly cities, work has begun to turn an extensive network of bike paths into full- fledged cyclist highways in a bid to push more commuters to leave their cars at home...

"A New Era of Mobility"

It is the duty of Austrian city authorities to learn from these examples best practice. Austrian environment minister Andrä Rupprechter told me at the conclusion of the Paris Climate Talks, we are entering "a new era of mobility" and that new era must involve a dramatic increase in cycling participation.

Our health system needs cyclists. Our environment needs cyclists. Cycling lobbyists always emphasise that cycling remains relatively safe. In 2015, 39 cyclists were killed on Austrian roads, compared to 79 pedestrian and 239 car passengers. If you compare that to the 11,400 Austrians killed every year by tobacco-related diseases (source: tobacco atlas) then you could hardly call rationally cycling an unacceptable risk but every effort has to made to make the infrastructure fit per purpose. Accidents will happen, that has to be accepted, but it is unacceptable to continue with a system that puts cyclist lives at risk at the expense of driver’s convenience. Drawing a white line on a road does not make a fit-for-purpose cycle path.

A lot of the details of bike infrastructure are very tecnical – the angle of curbs, the gap between the cycle path and parked car. The Radlobby has lots of recommendations to make cycling safer. But does the Radlobby’s infrastructure expert Roland Romano think are the authorities are listening to these recommendations?

"Sometimes they are heard, but often they are neglected or ignored."