Careful What You Wish For

Opinion | Margaret Childs | September 2013

Mariahilferstraße’s potentially perilous new pedestrian zone (Photo: C. Fürthner/PID)

Maria Vassilakou and Vienna’s Green party have not been everybody’s darling when it comes to pedestrianizing Europe’s longest shopping street. Mariahilferstraße’s makeover has been severely criticised, both in the media and on Facebook, prompting uproar about disappearing parking spaces, unruly cyclists and a controversial 13A bus lane (see "Multi-tasking Mariahilfer" Brief , p.4).

Wary pedestrians still wait at the corners where crosswalks have disappeared, not quite comfortable walking on the former traffic lanes. Some bus drivers see the lane through the pedestrian zone as an accident waiting to happen. Cyclists reported bizarre scenarios of being clocked by traffic police as they rode through the Begegnungszone.

It all seemed like such a good idea. But the concept may have been tainted by the Green Party’s pseudo-democratic process. At various stages in the development of the FuZo (short for Fußgängerzone, pedestrian zone) the neighbours get the chance to vote on the specific signs and measures, whether they work, or what needs to be changed. This may be just the thing that is creating the controversy. In Viennese urban planning, changes tend to be more successful when clear lines are drawn.

The all-night U-Bahn on Friday and Saturday was the result of referendum in 2010 when 54.9% opted for the change. To celebrate, every year, clubs and bars all over town give free entry for Nightride. Even longer ago in 1971, the Graben was pedestrianized one Christmas as a Weihnachtskorso, or Christmas Avenue, with flyers and attractions to forge acceptance of the change.

For years now, Mariahilferstraße is closed for traffic shortly before Christmas to allow for the crazed holiday shoppers to zigzag from Gerngross to H&M. The idea of creating another pedestrian zone, therefore, seemed plausible. Now inhabitants of the 6th and 7th Districts are asked to vote on the choices in the various portions of the FuZo. This is where things could get even messier.

Wasn’t the plan thought through ahead of time? The SPÖs Rudi Schicker seems to have a point in April when he said, "We should ask whether the concept should be adopted in full."

I propose a stand at the Erlebnistag on 31 August called "Ganz oder Gar nicht", "Go big or go home". If the people want to walk on the street, let them, if not, let the cars come back, but certainly nobody voted for a half-assed FuZo.

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