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Vienna | 17.4.2008 | 15:24 
Letters from a shrinking globe: around the day in 80 worlds

Zita, Rotifer, Steve

Saved By The Schlauchomat
  There are few happier pictures in Austrian cities, I think, than a commuter jauntily cycling off to work, perhaps humming as he rides (or she rides Anm.d. Redaktion).

There are fewer more melancholic pictures, however, than the same commuter pushing his bike home, a curse on his lips and flat tire grumbling its way across the glass splinter strewn streets.

We should all cycle more, says the Austrian environment ministry, because it's clean and fun. But they forget to mention how infuriating the infamous "patschen" or puncture can be, especially when the shops are shut and you haven't loaded your rucksack with pumps and tools and glue!
Thomas Blinglinger and Alec Hager.
  Luckily, if you live in Vienna, there is a Good Samaritan at hand to ease your pain. The country's first free repair station for cycles has just been unveiled on the Siebensternplatz in the 7th district.

It consists of an orangey-yellow slot-machine and a free state-of-the art pump station.

The wonderfully named schlauchomat works like the old fashioned cigarette machines. You put your notes or coins in and pull a brand new inner-tube out for the same price you'd pay in the shops. The air pump is incorporated into a bike stand, is called a Heklucht, and has won international design prizes.
Playing Catch Up
  A recent international comparative study put Austria in the bottom third of world-wide bike users. Only 5% of Austrians use their bikes as a regular mode of transport - a figure that the Austrian environment ministry, faced with climate change woes and 'feinstaub' pollution, says it is keen to increase.

Surely Environment Minister Josef Pröll is right to say we should cycle more. Half our car journeys are over a distance of less than 5km. But Alec Hager of the cycling lobby group IG Fahrrad, who showed me around the Siebensternplatz facilities, complains its mostly just fine words with too little behind them. He says cycling in Austria simply isn't made attractive enough:

"The Austrian government and the city of Vienna try to push cycling on the grounds of concern for the environment and climate change, but it's just lip service. There's a lack of infrastructure and, in my opinion, the federal government lacks the political will to prioritize cycling."
  On these words Thomas Blimlinger, an official from the Neubau district council, beamed with pride. The Schlauchomate which surely deserves to catch on, is on his patch of town.

He says the pretty streets of the 7th district are where progressive attitudes to cycling begin:

You can't just tell people to cycle, he says, you have to offer them something. On the streets that means more bike-stands and clever little things like the Heklucht. It also means changing laws that currently ban people from keeping their bikes in the inner courtyards of old buildings. "We need to encourage people not just to possess a bike but to use it too."
Snall Fry?
  When we talk about climate change, we like to talk big. So all this chat about inner-tubes and free air might seem a bit small fry. Should anyone really be excited about the Schlauchomat?

Alec says it's symbolic. There are service stations for cars everywhere, so it's important that cyclists have the idea that someone is also spendign some time thinking about their needs.
One Last Thing
  With these two gentlemen at the mercy of my microphone, I asked them the cycling question that has been burning on my lips for months.

Why doesn't anyone do anything about the fact that cars park all over the bike lanes, forcing many bikers to test their emergency breaking technique and sending some, suddenly boxed in between the moving traffic and the parked cars, on a potentially lethal trip over their own handlebars.

It might be considered a 'minor' transgression but it puts lives at risk every day. Alec Hager thinks it's a clear sign that drivers don't respect cycling as a legitimate form of transport. He also thinks it shows that the police are too lax in actually imposing the 70 Euros fines that can be charged. "I'd encourage cyclists to challenge anyone they see doing that."

 photo. from
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reclaiming the streets

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