Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

Die Macht des Fahrrads

"Vienna: Cool city, isn't it?"

“Vienna: Cool city, isn’t it?”


Three things I have learned so far in Vienna:

  1. Drivers in the Vienna are so accustomed to cyclists that they roll their eyes and wave at you impatiently if you don’t immediately assert your right of way.
  2. How to order a variety of coffee drinks in German (in the first few days I only ordered espressos since this was the only coffee word I was sure of. However I soon grew tired of this as I don’t like espresso.)
  3. No bike share program in the U.S. is affordable. One euro for a lifetime membership (the price of Citybike Vienna) – now that’s affordable.

It is day 10 of my 2-month internship in Vienna, Austria, with the bicycle urbanism NGO Smarter Than Car. I spent my second day in Vienna riding around the city for four hours with Vienna’s Critical Mass, a monthly event that is part of a global movement where hordes of bicycles take over the major streets of a city for a few hours. It also happened to be the naked-themed Critical Mass, though this was rather limited by the chilly winds and menacing clouds. I went as a non-participating observer, of course. It was a great way to explore the city from the unique perspective of a bicycle, as well as witness how onlookers marvelled at how calm, jolly, and peaceful the streets become when filled with cyclists instead of motorists. Check out some video I shot of the ride:

To get back to the actual reason I came to Vienna, though- last summer I returned to my hometown of Columbus Ohio, after three years away, and at my work became friends with some amazing women who relied primarily on public transportation to get around and were also from a lower socioeconomic class. I soon found out that they spent hours commuting distances that I could drive to in minutes. Not only did this make me really angry, it also (more productively) sparked my interest in equal access to mobility. Too often in the U.S., public transportation can in no way compete with the car, and I don’t think it is a coincidence that the primary users of public transportation, a service many local governments seem less than motivated to improve, are poor people. As a part of Fred Stout’s class, “The Automobile and the City,” I began to learn more about bike share programs and the current low rates at which they serve low-income people in the United States. Vienna, on the other hand, is known for extremely affordable and high quality public transportation. Day passes for bike share systems in U.S. can run between $7 and $10 dollars, with annual passes ranging from $60 to $100. The Citybike Vienna system, as I’ve already mentioned, charges a one-time fee of one euro. I am in Vienna this summer because I want to know how this is possible, what other factors besides cost converge to make a bike share program that is accessible, or not, to people of all socioeconomic backgrounds, and how this might play out within a U.S. context. This summer, with the support of Smarter Than Car, I’ll be conducting a research project with these as my goals.

Some things I’ve done/experienced in these 10 days:

  1. A public think-tank presentation of our project/feedback session that turned into an almost three-hour conversation amongst participants, who included Dr. Hans-Erich Dechant (down-to-earth, extremely knowledgeable head of Citybike Vienna who goes by HAE, pronounced “Hah-ay”)
  2. Braved the summer rain with Smarter Than Car and friends to cycle to different embassies to promote the World Bike Forum
  3. Remembered how much I enjoy sitting for hours alone in cafes

That’s all for now. Bis bald! 🙂

– Sara Maurer (Urban Studies ’16)


(Me, the Parliament, and Critical Mass)




One response to “Die Macht des Fahrrads

  1. Hermana July 7, 2014 at 9:26 am

    On top of day pass or annual fees, U.S. bike shares usually only allow you to take short rides (30 or 45 minutes) before they begin charging you “overtime fees.” For people with long commutes (including many low income people), this is another hurdle to use of the bike share. I assume Viennese/European bike shares don’t have the additional fees?

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