Cycling in Vienna

Vienna is said to have over 1,400 kilometers of cycle paths. I have only tried a small fraction of these, but I was impressed since many of them are wide and well-marked, and often physically separated from car traffic. I particularly liked the Ringstrasse Route (first photo), which goes along both sides of the wide boulevard around the old city, passing the State Opera, the Imperial Palace, the Austrian Parliament, the Art History Museum and the MuseumsQuartier.

Cycling in Vienna

Vienna, like many other cities, collects data on urban transport and calculates the ‘modal split’ each year, showing what percentage of journeys in the city were undertaken by which mode of transport. They say that in 2019, bicycles accounted for seven percent of journeys in the city. In 2020 that was up to nine percent, because of better weather and the effect of the Covid pandemic, which discouraged the use of trains, trams and busses.

These percentages are much lower than in cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, but higher than in many North American cities, some of which barely even reach one percent of bicycle traffic. (These ‘modal split’ percentages only give a general impression, however, because not all cities use the same methods of data collection and calculation.)

Bicycle stop light in Vienna

The unusual thing about this bicycle stop light is that the red light shows the cyclist actually stopped, with a foot on the ground, waiting for the light to change. This is totally logical, yet I can’t recall having seen one like this before.

CityBike station at the Vienna State Opera

Like any self-respecting 21st century city, Vienna has an on-street bicycle sharing system.

A unique characteristic of the Vienna “CityBike” system is that it is free, or nearly so. You do have to pay one Euro as a registration fee, but this is just to make sure your credit card is working, and the one Euro is credited to your first trip charges — if you ever have any trip charges.

Once you are registered, you can check out bikes as often as you wish, 24/7, all year round. The first hour of each ride is free, and only after that do they start charging your credit card. After returning a bike, you have to wait fifteen minutes before taking another one and getting another free hour.

Although the bike sharing system in Vienna is practically free, you do have to insert your credit card to identify yourself at the terminal each time you check out a bike. This is similar to the London system, and as I have mentioned in one of my London posts I am always a bit uneasy about flashing my card around so much, since I usually try to keep it safely out of sight most of the time.

Vienna residents can get around this problem by ordering a special CityBike card or using their Vienna transit card.

The big problem with the CityBike system in Vienna is that it is too small for a city of this size. As of 2021, there are only about 1,500 bikes and 121 stations, concentrated in the city center, which means that not many people can use the bikes for commuting. For me, it meant that there was no bike station near my hotel.

(For comparison: the Vélib’ system in Paris has over 20,000 bikes and about 1,400 stations located throughout the city and in some of the adjoining suburbs.)

Bicycle docking in Vienna

The bicycle docking system in Vienna is similar to the one that was used in Paris from 2007 to 2017. To dock a bike, you have to push a metal tongue into a slot, so as to lock the bike in place and register it as returned. In Vienna this always worked for me on the first try, because the bikes get relatively little use so the metal tongues were still in perfect shape. In Paris some of the bikes had been in constant use day and night for nearly a decade, so some of the metal tongues were bent out of shape, making it hard to dock the bikes properly. (Since 2018 Paris has been using a different docking system, so they no longer have this particular problem. See my post Vélib’ 2018.)

By the way, the CityBike system in Vienna is partially funded by advertising. The letters “gowi” on a lot of the bikes are advertising for a large Austrian toy company.

Vienna CityBike Station 508, Matzleinsdorfer Platz

In Vienna, I once took the number 14A bus from my hotel to Matzleinsdorfer Platz. What really impressed me was that the internal display system in the bus said there was a bike station at that stop, and showed how many bikes were available in real time. This is a good example of what is meant by integrating bike-sharing into the overall city transport system.

My photos in this post are from 2016. I revised the text in 2021.

See more posts on Vienna, Austria.
See more cycling posts.

13 thoughts on “Cycling in Vienna”

  1. Your meditation on traffic lights reminded me of the Ampelmännchen, that beloved icon of GDR designed by traffic psychologist Karl Peglau and drawn by his secretary Anneliese Wegner, the resulting little man in a hat based on a summer photo of communist leader Erich Honecker wearing a Panama. The unusual Vienna ‘Cyclist at Rest’ image does indeed seem to be unique to Vienna. I could have done with it being a little more Secessionist in feel – but, hell…

  2. “In Vienna, I once took the number 14A bus from my hotel to Matzleinsdorfer Platz. What really impressed me was that the internal display system in the bus said there was a bike station at that stop, and showed how many bikes were available in real time. This is a good example of what is meant by integrating bike-sharing into the overall city transport system.”

    That’s impressive!

  3. I’ve never tried cycling in a big city, but these bike sharing systems seem really cool. I also love the bike stoplight! I was in Bordeaux a couple of weeks ago and it seemed to be a very bicycle friendly city as well.

  4. We’ve got a bike path in our county which is on the old rail bed of the no longer existing RR. It’s separate from the road. But the city in the US which has reasonable bike paths is Key West. Unfortunately it isn’t really possible to get there on a bike. Or at least not safely IMHO.

    1. Thanks for your visit and comment. Bike paths made on old railroad beds are always good, in my experience, especially since they are usually not too steep. I remember one in Scotland, near Edinburgh, which included going through a long tunnel that had been made for the railroad in the 19th century.

  5. I LOVE CityBike. Informative post, per usual.

    I hope it catches on in the state’s. Brilliant alternative transportation!! 😃

    1. Yes, I’ve read that a number of American cities have installed similar bike-sharing systems.
      Thanks for your visit and comment.

  6. Love this quote: Like any self-respecting 21st century city, Vienna has an on-street bicycle sharing system.
    Your description of Vienna was lovely. I had no bike when I was there years ago but I remember going to a natural history museum and seeing a dodo bird (stuffed, of course. It wasnt THAT long ago!). I also saw a few palaces, a Klimt exhibition (love Jugendstil!) and went to see a Mozart The Magic Flute opera I believe but cant be sure. I know I also saw Mutter Courage at one point though it seems to me that was just a play.
    The bicycle infrastructure details are very interesting and user friendly. My husbands work as a traffic engineer often leads to questions of retrofitting a vehicle centered American city for cyclists. I hope one day we will bicycle in Europe and see the infrastructure of which you speak so knowledgeably and fondly, for ourselves!

  7. Free sharing service is an inviting proposition. But, I doubt if the company is profitable unless it is well funded by the government. Wide cycle paths is definitely a luxury for me. I liked the traffic lights. Engaging post Don.

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