Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Public space to the people!

I have complained many times about poorly designed bicycle infrastructure in Vienna. But it's not only the traffic planners that should be pointed at. Usually as a traffic planner you have more than one solution to a problem, you work out all the positive and negative aspects of various designs and then present it to the decision makers. It's their business to choose cheap and good solutions for everybody without being influenced by different lobbies.

All the more important it is that there are people that got the big picture. There's for example the Viennese traffic planner and Prof. (emeritus) Hermann Knoflacher of the University of Technology in Vienna. He thinks differently. For example, he walked along the streets with his so-called Gehzeug (walking thingy, a rip-off of the German word Fahrzeug for vehicle) to show how much space one person in a car needs and how unnatural that actually is. Knoflacher also claims that cars just sit around 99% of their time and therefore rather refers to them as Stehzeuge (standing thingy).

Hermann Knoflacher and his invention - the Gehzeug

Hermann Knoflacher can be proud of many things he achieved for pedestrians, e.g. the pedestrian zone in the city center of Vienna (soon after that the shops that previously where against it have increased their profits and in 2001 the historic center became Unesco world cultural heritage). Back in the 60s till 80s traffic planners had cars in mind and not people, and luckily many things have changed ever since. But the car lobby is still very powerful and politicians are mostly not courageous enough to follow the slow movement approach (which at the end of the day doesn't actually mean that one is slower).

One of Knoflacher's most famous statements is that people have to be cured from their car addiction. He says by putting one's car as far away as the next stop for public transport, people wouldn't always simply take the car but reconsider their choices. That would certainly also increase bike and foot traffic.

I don't completely agree with everything that Knoflacher says, but he recognizes problems that others don't see as we are all trapped in a car-focused society. Therefore he's very controversial and often attacked by car advocates. On the other hand it's good that he appears in public, because this gives me hope that others will follow and work for a more human way of transport.

For further reading I recommend:

  • The fairkehr website of the Gehzeuge project (in German).

  • An interesting interview "Warum das Auto uns verr├╝ckt macht" (Why cars drive us crazy) in the German newspaper "Die Zeit".
  • The same interview "Autofahren ist schlimmer als Drogensucht" (Driving cars is worse than drug addiction) in the Austrian newspaper "Wiener Zeitung", including further discussions.
  • The recent documentary "Der Abschied vom Auto" (Good-bye to cars) in the TV program "Zoom Europa" on Arte which can be downloaded here (in German).
  • Many books (in German and English).

Of course he also published a lot of articles in scientific journals.

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