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EXPLAINED: What cyclists and drivers in Austria need to know about new rules

Increasing the minimum distance between cars and bikes and reducing waiting times for pedestrian traffic lights are among the changes in Austria that are designed to make life easier for bikers and pedestrians.

Vienna bike austria cycling
The new rules will make life easier - and safer - for pedestrians and cyclists in Austria (Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash)

Austria is implementing its master plan for facing up to climate change and making its cities better to live in – and especially better for pedestrians and cyclists. The country has already an extensive network of public transport – though critics say there is much to be done, and it’s now updating its regulations to improve the lives of cyclists and pedestrians.

The changes to the highway and traffic code “take the rules for walking and cycling from the 1960s to the 21st century”, Climate Protection Minister Leonore Gewessler (Grüne) said during a press conference to announce the changes in April.

Several changes were made to the original amendments after negotiations with authorities in Austria’s states.

For example the proposed general opening of one-way streets for cyclists allowing them to ride in both directions was eventually scrapped, the mobility spokesman of the Greens, Lukas Hammer, told Der Standard.

What is changing that will benefit pedestrians? 

The government’s amendments will give higher priority to both pedestrians and cyclists, and pavements will have to be kept “free of vehicles and obstacles” with the new regulation.

At least one and a half metres of space needs to be reserved for people who are walking.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about cycling in Austria

Perhaps most noticeably, the government announced traffic lights will change to allow a shorter waiting time and longer duration of the green lights so pedestrians can cross the streets after a “without haste”. 

Drivers will also need to give priority to pedestrians crossing the street after getting on or off public transport, a move which is also aimed at beneffiting those who use the public transport system across Austria. 

READ ALSO: How Vienna plans to expand its tram and park & ride systems for commuters

What will be the changes regarding cyclists?

The main changes for cyclists will aim to give them more space among traffic. When overtaking a cyclist, the minimum distance cars should give will increase to up to two metres depending on the location.

Turning right at a red light will be allowed for cyclists “if it does not endanger road safety”, according to the government. For this, a new traffic sign will be introduced in Austria: the green arrow, which will show where the turn is possible.

In addition, cyclists will be allowed to ride side-by-side when one of them is under the age of 12 or at a speed of 30 km/h with another adult.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
A woman rides her bicycle through Stadtpark (City park) in Vienna, Austria on October 16, 2019. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Cycling is booming in Austria

Despite being known for its mountains and Alps, Austria is also an extremely bike-friendly country, especially in the lower plains on the Danube. 

In Lower Austria, more than half of the tourists visiting the state are there on cycling holidays, as reported. 

READ ALSO: The best cycle routes in and around Vienna

Bike riding has boomed thanks to the Covid pandemic. Still even before 2020, around € 252 million were generated through cycle tourism in Lower Austria annually.

Last year, the Danube Cycle Path was the busiest bike route, with 1.1 million tourist bike rides between April 1st and September 30th, 2021. Other heavily frequented cycle paths are the EuroVelo 9 in the Weinviertel, the Kamp-Thaya-March route, the Traisental cycle path and the Triesting-Gölsental cycle path.

Environmental initiatives

Much of the changes are part of Austria’s larger climate change action plan. The federal government has already put in place its Klimaticket, with discounted country-wide public transport tickets to incentivise people to leave their cars at home.

READ ALSO: ‘Cool streets’: How Vienna is preparing for climate change and heatwaves

The capital Vienna has also adopted the 15-minute city concept, aiming to make the most essential everyday routes possible within a 15-minute walk. 

The goal is that all Austria’s most populous city residents can feel like they live in a small village. They can walk 15 minutes and reach supermarkets, bakeries, restaurants, doctors, schools, and recreational areas.

Many of Austria’s main capitals also have several car-free zones, and Vienna recently introduced the short-term parking concept to (almost) all of its streets

Useful vocabulary

Cyclist – Radfahrer

Pedestrian – Fußgänger

Speeders – Raser

Measures – Maßnahmen

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For members

DRIVING

When and where to avoid driving in Austria this summer

While driving is a convenient way to get from A to B - or to go on holiday - there are some key dates and locations to be aware of in Austria this summer. Here’s what you need to know.

When and where to avoid driving in Austria this summer

Nothing spoils a summer holiday quicker than being stuck in traffic in sweltering weather.

It’s a situation that can be hard to avoid during the peak summer travel months of July and August, but it is possible to plan ahead to bypass the worst congestion.

Here’s The Local’s guide on when and where to expect high levels of traffic on Austrian roads this summer.

FOR MEMBERS: 7 things to know about driving in Austria this summer

Get to know Austria’s traffic calendar

The traffic calendar (Staukalender, in German) is exactly how it sounds – it’s a calendar displaying important dates where travellers could be impacted by congestion on the roads.

The calendar is compiled by the Austrian Automobile, Motorcycle and Touring Club (ÖAMTC), a traffic club and non-profit association that was established to support and represent drivers and cyclists in Austria.

Every year Barbara Kner from ÖAMTC Mobility Information collects details about public holidays, planned construction work, border controls and events.

The ÖAMTC then uses this information to create the traffic calendar and traffic volume forecasts to help motorists better plan their trips.

READ MORE: Austria sees scores of flight cancellations after airline staff contract Covid

How does the traffic calendar work?

The traffic calendar is very simple to use.

Simply click the link and then browse through the pages on a month-by-month basis. 

The main events and planned construction projects are already in the calendar, so you can see where you might come across traffic on your journey and make any necessary changes to an itinerary.

You can also click on a specific date to be redirected to the ÖAMTC route planner for further details about traffic, parking spots and nearby petrol stations.

Both the traffic calendar and the route planner are available on desktop or via the ÖAMTC app.

Key dates in the traffic calendar for summer 2022 (and beyond)

Here are some key dates from the traffic calendar for the coming months.

School summer holidays – July to September

In 2022, the start of the school summer holidays will be staggered over the first two weekends in July, with regions in the east of Austria starting on July 2nd and the west on July 9th.

The ÖAMTC warns that the second weekend in July typically sees higher levels of traffic on roads in Austria, followed by the start of the Bavarian travel season on August 1st.

The last northbound wave of returning holidaymakers is expected on the main transit routes during the second weekend in September.

READ ALSO: Can I use my foreign driving licence in Austria?

Planned construction

Every year, major construction works are planned during the summer months while the weather is usually warm and dry, but it often plays havoc with travel plans for travellers in Austria.

In 2022, construction work is due to take place on the Ofenauer and Hiefler tunnels on the A10 in the province of Salzburg from September. 

Construction work on a chain of tunnels in Werfen (Zetzenberg, Helbersberg, Brentenberg) will also take place at the same time and the projects are scheduled to run until 2025 with breaks for summer traffic.

As a result, motorists should expect to hit traffic before entering the tunnels while work is ongoing.

Festivals

Electric Love takes place at the Salzburgring just outside of Salzburg from July 7th to 9th.

The FM4 Frequency Festival will be held from August 18th to 20th in St. Pölten in Lower Austria.

Both festivals are expected to create high levels of traffic, both on the way to the venue and afterwards.

As a precautionary measure, the ÖAMTC breakdown service will set up its own base at the site of these festivals or within the local area to provide assistance to motorists.

FOR MEMBERS: How to explore the Austrian mountains in the summer like a local

Major sporting events

Other important events that are likely to cause congestion on Austrian roads are the F1 GP race at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Styria, on July 10th.  This is then followed by the MotoGP on August 21st. 

For both events, delays are likely on the Murtal Expressway (S36) before and after the race so be sure to plan ahead when travelling to the track.

Likewise, the F1 GP race in Hungary on July 31st is expected to cause traffic jams at the Austrian/Hungarian border in Nickelsdorf on the A4.

From 2nd to 3rd September, AirPower – the annual aircraft event with performances from the Red Bull Skydiving team and the Austrian Armed Forces – will take place in Zeltweg in Styria. 

Motorists could encounter traffic on the S36 during this time (particularly for people arriving or leaving the site).

READ MORE: The best Austrian wineries to visit this summer

Marathons and Ironman events

Ironman competitions will take place at Lake Wörthersee in Carinthia on July 3rd, and in Zell am See in Salzburg on August 28th. Motorists should expect traffic delays and road closures in the regions both the day before and on the morning of the events.

The Wachau Marathon will be held on September 25th along the B3 in Emmersdorf to Krems. As a result, the B3 will be closed to vehicles from 8am.

The Kleine Zeitung Graz Marathon takes place on October 9th, which means many roads in the city centre are closed on October 8th and 9th. Instead, park and ride options will be available and a limited service of buses and trams by the Graz Linien.

In Lower Austria, the Linz Donau Marathon is on October 23rd. From 5.30am there will be extensive road closures throughout the city centre and the Vöest freeway bridge will be closed from 2am to 12pm.

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