I was recently invited to visit Austria by Advantage Austria as part of a delegation to learn about their Smart Grids and Smart Networks. But what I really wanted to see was the legendary city of Vienna, at whose gates the Ottomans were halted. Those defensive walls are no longer present, and it is their destruction and replacement which has shaped the Viennese transport network and development pattern.
Compare maps of Vienna and Minneapolis and you see some surprising similarities in shape at the same scale. To the north and east is the River (the Donau Canal (an offshoot of the main river) in Vienna, the Mississippi in Minneapolis). The Mississippi is mightier. In contrast to my anticipations, the Danube is far from romantic, and separated from the city by rail and highway. It is no Seine, or even a Thames, or even a Mississippi. It was straightened and re-organized as a flood control project.
The Innere Stadt was the early walled city (District 1). After a second ring of territories (Districts 2-8) were annexed in 1850, the walls were razed in 1857. The land housing the former defensive walls and plains became the Ringstrasse, and was lined with important public buildings. Think of District 1 as the CBD. There is far more commercial density in the Minneapolis CBD (defined by the area with tall buildings > 10 stories) than in the similar area of Vienna, which retains its Austro-Hungarian Empire height limits of about 7 stories. But there are far more stores, and people out and about in Vienna. There are several pedestrianized streets, lined with shops and active travelers. This is in part because of the mix of tourist attractions, cultural venues, residences and offices attracting visitors, residents, and workers. The pedestrian streets were served by an Underground system that has been steadily expanded to five lines since the mid 1970s (U1-U6, excluding U5).
The streets that were not pedestrianized often had trams. That does not mean it was a car-haters paradise however. There were many, many cars, even in the Innere Stadt. The drivers are aggressive. There are some cycle tracks as well, and this is better than Minneapolis, but not as developed as Copenhagen or the Netherlands. There is also a lot of on-street parking. There are not Singapore level prices for auto-ownership, and Vienna remains very German in its appreciation for auto-mobility.
Given the lack of a regular street pattern, a pedestrian wayfinding system would be useful, especially in the areas with lots of pedestrians. More pedestrian streets are being built. Apparently the local merchants complain about construction (understandable) and subsequent lack of access by car (not). Surely there are studies which show sales or rents are higher (or lower) on pedestrianized streets.
While on-street parking is not the worst outcome (it is better than more on-street lanes), it does take away scarce space from better uses. If I were the Emperor of Austria (or even the Mayor of Vienna), I would ban cars in the central areas, where they really are not much needed. Even in the absence of an outright ban, a congestion charge would probably be a net positive for the city. More woonerfs would be good. My term would likely be short.
The Linienwall formed the outer boundary of the second ring. It was replaced by roads. The western part of this is the Gürtel ring road that matches the Minneapolis Interstate ring (The Gürtel is B-221, though the better analog for the Twin Cities is to go from B-221 to B-1, as shown on the map). Railway terminals were built just outside this wall. (We stayed near Westbahnhof).
In particular, crossing the rings on foot is not a pleasant experience. Both ring roads have become traffic sewers (think Lyndale/Hennepin bottleneck, though probably not quite that bad for pedestrians). The railroad tracks also create barriers, with pedestrian bridges periodically, but by no means every block.
While the Innere Stadt is best described as Medieval, a much more orderly ring/radial plan emanates from the Ringstrasse, and while the grid is not perfectly squared as in the Midwest, it is more orderly than in the old city. Vienna respects its architects and planners more than any other city I have seen. Credit for the plan largely rests with Otto Wagner. Andy Nash has a nice history.
In Vienna, you see trams everywhere, they were not dismantled post-World War II as in much of the west. Notably, the Aerial electric wires are now used for recharging battery powered e-buses. Payment is through tickets and validation (on the vehicle), or passes. Tickets are purchased at machines at subway stations — not at Tram stations. Officials there said they have 98% compliance. They thus use Proof of Payment, but don’t enforce much (I estimate 1/1000 trips gets a ticket check from the numbers some Viennese said, but this may be wrong). This speeds boarding radically. The majority of residents have seasonal transit passes.
The subway system is well used (there were thoughts of dismantling trams post-subway but that did not happen), mostly, though there is a new extension to a planned community we visited (Aspern), which had not yet opened, hence ridership on that line was very low. Presumably this will change over time, but after serving the built-up areas, the infrastructure here now seems to lead the development. Interestingly the station is served by buses which are also mostly empty. One would have thought they would wait on something which does have a high operating cost like buses, but apparently not.
Car2Go is popular, as are other carsharing services to lesser extent – but they seem to be station-based. (FYA: Local MSP transit app OMG Transit tells me where nearest Car2Go are in Austria, but not which bus/tram to catch. I believe the market will eventually develop one transportation app to rule them all, but not yet). Locally in Vienna, the App Qando does that. Also Austrian Railways are working on an inter-city ticketing app.)
Supermarkets in-town in Vienna Austria are much smaller than new in-town markets in US, and are of course more widely dispersed (with a smaller selection). This is a better urban model for small apartments with small refrigerators.
You cannot have European transit without European density. Vienna is 414 km2 at 4000 persons/km2 vs. Minneapolis 151 km2 at 2813 persons/km2. Vienna has 1.7 million people overall, while Minneapolis has a just over 400,000. Quantitatively the density of Minneapolis does not appear so much lower than Vienna, it must be remembered that Vienna is a city state in Austria, with large undeveloped areas reserved for park, so the density of the developed area is probably twice the overall density. Vienna’s area is larger than Minneapolis plus St. Paul, though notably smaller than say Hennepin County (1570 km2) with only 1.185 million people. Yet the Twin Cities metro area is larger than Vienna in population as well as area. It is just much more dispersed.
In short Vienna got the land use and the transit right, but failed to tame the auto and could do better with non-motorized travel. With gas prices around $6/gallon, auto use is certainly lower than the US (currently $3.50/gallon).
As it is a European City, the weather in Vienna is much nicer than Minneapolis on average.