EXPLAINED: How Austria is making life easier for cyclists and pedestrians

Increasing the minimum distance between cars and bikes and reducing waiting times for pedestrian traffic lights are among the changes that will make life easier for bikers and walkers.

vienna pedestrian street 1st district and tourism center
One of the many car-free streets in the city centre of Vienna (Photo by Anton on Unsplash)

Austria has a master plan for facing climate change and making its cities better to live in. 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 amendments 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 in a press conference this Friday, 29th. 

“Only now do pedestrians gain priority,” the minister added. 

Along with Andreas Ottenschläger, spokesperson for the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), and Lukas Hammer, mobility spokesperson for the Greens, Gewessler presented a comprehensive reform of the Road Traffic Act (StVO, in German). 

What is changing that will benefit pedestrians? 

The government’s amendments aim to 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 so pedestrians can cross the streets after a “short waiting time and without haste”. 

People on foot will also need to be given priority when they have to cross a street to get on and off public transport, also benefiting 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 will be that cyclists will have more space in road traffic. When overtaking a cyclist, the minimum distance cars should take will increase to up to two metres depending on the location.

In the future, one-way traffic lanes with a speed limit of 30 km/h and a width of more than four metres will be open to cyclists in both directions – and signalled. 

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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Austria bans ‘senseless’ killing of chicks with new animal welfare rules

The Federal Government announced a new legislative package with stricter rules for animal welfare, banning the "senseless" killing of chicks, tighter rules for live animal transport and installing other protection measures.

Austria bans 'senseless' killing of chicks with new animal welfare rules

Austria’s Federal Government has put together a new set of rules for stricter animal welfare in the country, most notably banning the practice of mass killing and disposal of male newborn chicks.  

“This package of measures is a great success for animal welfare, which finally implements years of demands of animal rights activists,” explains Animal Welfare Minister Johannes Rauch in a press conference detailing the measures.

Rauch announced the end of the “senseless” killing of chicks. Instead, the minister explained that the animals would be culled and used as feed in zoos, saying there is a great demand and zoos have been importing meat for their animals. 

READ ALSO: Penguin rescued after being ‘kidnapped’ from Salzburg zoo

In the future, Austria will carry out “gender determinations” of the animals before they hatch to take “appropriate measures earlier”.

Rauch added that the “shredding” of chicks, a controversial culling measure, did not take place in Austria even before the new steps. 

Measures for cow and pig welfare

The present animal welfare package will end the uninterrupted, year-round tying of cattle from 2030.

For pigs, there will be an “incentive” to offer more space for the animals, with new and converted stables and cooling planned. Rauch said that the measures were a compromise and first step but that “we are not yet where we want to go”. 

READ ALSO: Austria to ban online ads offering pets for sale

The package also imposes new rules for live animal transport, including shorter transport times and a ban on transporting newborns. 

Most of the provisions will come into force from 2023, the minister added. The package will be officially voted in Parliament at the end of June. 

“Unacceptable”: Criticism from animal protection groups and opposition

Animal protection groups in Austria have criticised the federal government’s plan as unacceptable and a “weak compromise”. 

Pigs and cattle for fattening will still stand on full-coated soils, tail cropping and anaesthetic castration will continue to be common practice in piglets, and animals will be transported far too young and far too long, the Vier Pfoten group pointed out in a statement.

READ ALSO: Why Vienna is a haven for wild animals – and where you can find them

“There was not even a serious attempt to put an end to this cruelty to animals”, the group’s director Eva Rosenberg said.

Opposition SPÖ has also criticised the government plans, calling it “a mess”, according to Vienna Animal Welfare spokesperson Eva Persy. The NEOS parliamentary groups said the measures were “pure cosmetics”, and the proposals do not go far enough.