In an earlier post about Vienna, I mentioned bicycling. It was my first month here and I had yet to cycle in the city (in was February and I had not yet acquired a bike). Since then, I bought an old bike second hand off Willhaben (like Craigslist) and I have been cycling around the city ever since. From what I see, it is considerably easier to cycle in Vienna than it was in Brussels, but Vienna is not quite Amsterdam or Copenhagen – yet.
It must first be said that there are indeed separated bicycle lanes in Vienna, which is an improvement over Brussels. Cyclists most often have their own space on the roads, either a lane just for themselves or shared with pedestrians. This separation from motorised traffic increases one’s sense of security and is especially appreciated along the “Ring” (the road around the historical inner city, the 1st district, which also happens to be lined with beautiful Habsburg era architecture) and around the “Gürtel”, which is the large arterial road that separates the inner and outer districts.
If one does not have a bicycle, Vienna has a system of Citybikes which costs just 1 euro for a lifetime membership and is free to use for periods of up to 1 hour. This means that you can bike all over Vienna, for just 1 euro, great for tourists, but also for locals (although sometimes there are no bicycles left at a station, or only broken bikes – a problem that all bike share systems face, mind you).
One can also bring one’s bicycle into the U-Bahn. This is really good for going out on the weekend, especially since, as I will mention later, there are heavy fines for cycling under the influence in Vienna (and one should never cycle drunk, regardless of the repercussions or lack thereof).
The best thing, however, has to be the temperament of car drivers. In Brussels, one always feels like the enemy of drivers when one is cycling. Drivers often cut off bicyclists and are not afraid to honk incessantly. This makes cycling unpleasant and makes cyclists feel unsafe on the road. I do not feel this tension in Vienna. This is perhaps due to the fact that drivers cannot honk incessantly, as it is illegal for motorists to honk in Vienna unless they are trying to avoid a collision (more info here). However, I also think that in general drivers are most patient and alert to cyclists.
Oh and finally, Vienna is mostly flat which makes cycling easier than climbing the hills of Brussels to cross the city.
As I mentioned, there are separated bicycle paths for cyclists. However, these paths often cross tram lines, pedestrian paths and other traffic, or suddenly end and restart somewhere else. This can be a bit confusing and a bit dangerous, and it brings about conflicts between different mode-users who are all under the impression that the space is theirs alone. I have had some near collisions and have just barely missed crossing in front of moving trams many times already.
Another problem is the lack of bicycle infrastructure in some parts of the city. For instance, I was cycling to a friend’s house in the 10th district last weekend and I suddenly lost the bicycle path and thus was cycling around an unknown neighbourhood, which was quite industrial and traffic-ridden, on the road with cars and then onto the sidewalk with pedestrians.
Parking is sometimes also a challenge. It is especially difficult to find a space to lock one’s bicycle in front of cafés and grocery stores.
Finally, one place where Brussels wins in terms of cycling is the ability for cyclists to ride against traffic – almost everywhere. This means that cyclists can take any street in Brussels. In Vienna, on many one-way streets cyclists are not allowed to ride counter-traffic. This means some considerable detours for cyclists.
There is no real “ugly” in terms of bicycling in Vienna, but one thing that I have heard a lot are the heavy fines for not having a light, for cycling in the wrong place or for cycling under the influence. However, while this is unfortunate for the cyclists who are fined, it makes the road safer for everyone.
Overall, Vienna is a better city for cycling than Brussels, but connectivity needs to be improved and infrastructure extended to put it on par with Amsterdam.