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.
Did Advantage Austria / other persons discuss with your group the recent political controversies over expansion of pedestrian zones?
Only briefly, the Deputy Mayor said there were controversies because neighboring businesses didn’t want to lose vehicle access (and I suppose also didn’t want the disruption from construction). We weren’t focusing on that, so not a lot more came out about the controversies. It seems some of these zones are going ahead in any case.
I’m not sure about street-level maps, but all of the U-Bahn stations should have local maps by the main exists that help people orient themselves. I want to say there are street-level maps around the Ringstraße, but I could be remembering.
One thing I enjoyed in Vienna that I wish we did here is that all of the Straßenbahn and Bus stops also have maps of the entire route posted, which is extremely helpful for those that don’t just stay on one street the whole time. They also have automated signs counting down the minutes until the next ride would come by, which isn’t even something we’ve mastered for our light rail lines. This makes the whole system so much easier to navigate than ours, where stops are so poorly marked you can’t even tell which route and direction is stopping at any given street corner outside of the downtown zones.
Definitely agree with Anne that Vienna does a good job of having maps and schedules at all (or at least most) bus and tram stops – much better than the plain Metro Transit “bus stop” signs David Levinson has discussed before.
I agree that the Innere Stadt could definitely do without cars. They don’t even have trams or buses (other than some smaller buses) that roam the small streets in the first district. Walking, biking, or the U-bahn seem sufficient for the fairly small and condensed area.
I thought your comments about the Danube are pretty spot on. While you can experience the river in its glory outside of the city throughout the vineyards of the Wachau, you hardly notice it within Vienna and where you do, it seems to lack in beauty.
One interesting note is that Vienna’s bike sharing program costs 1 Euro for a lifetime membership and is free for the first hour I believe. That’s a lot cheaper than Nice Ride and gives you twice the amount of time to drop off at the next station.
Vienna definitely has an extensive transit system with buses, trams, subway and S-bahn taking you to even the more remote parts of the city limits. However, one lacking aspect would be ADA type accessibility. Although it’s improving with the new low floor trams, it’s still not uncommon to see find a lack of elevator access, particularly in the old S-bahn stations. This is, however, fairly common across much of Europe’s old infrastructure.
The pre-payment system would definitely reduce Metro Transit boarding times tremendously. I find it interesting that the majority (if not all) ticketing in Vienna is still done with stamped paper tickets. They don’t seem to be in any rush to implement electronic fares. I’m not sure if it’s the cost of such a system or the Austrian mentality of sticking with what works.
Re: prepaid tickets and boarding
I’m a little skeptical of the 98% compliance figure in the original post. As noted, it is extremely rare that an official actually asks for your ticket, though I suppose they could have increased the number of officials in the past 4 years. I know a lot of people, especially university students, who skipped the tickets altogether, despite living in Vienna proper and having access to a discounted semester ticket, because it seemed unnecessary. The night buses would almost always be checked, but they just let you buy your ticket from the official who would otherwise be fining you 104 € during the day, and everyone was happy. Plus, Wiener Linien itself has a page alerting people to the lines that will be checked on any given day (http://www.wienerlinien.at/eportal2/ep/programView.do/pageTypeId/66526/programId/66624/channelId/-46588), as well as numerous community-driven social media groups dedicated to informing the community about which lines to avoid.
The prepay system absolutely leads to faster boarding time (and allows people to board buses and trams at any door, not just the front), but there is definitely a large contingent of users who aren’t following the honor system.
On another note, it looks like they now have the “Handyticket” option for people wishing to buy and store tickets through the Wiener Linien app on their phones.