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Thursday , 30 June 2022

Walking through Austria

Many trips made via mass transport modes require the passenger to change the main modes during the trip, before he reaches his final stop. The interfaces between the mass transport modes where the passenger changes modes in order to optimise his journey in terms of time and distance ? the inter-modal transfers ? should be so integrated that the time spent and discomfort experienced in the transfer process is minimal. At the final stop, he requires a dispersal or feeder mode that can take him as close to his final destination as possible ? almost as close as a car would have taken him. The same holds true at the point where he started his trip ? the origin. The access to the feeder services also should ensure that the commuter or casual passenger experiences the least discomfort in transferring from the main mode to this feeder service. It is only when these points of friction in the system are taken care of that there is a shift of trips from private modes to mass transportation. My planner?s mind took in all the details, noting that everything in Vienna seemed to be by the book: the integration between the mass transportation systems was perfect. I could get information about all modes from either the train station or the tram stop or on my cell phone. Tourist information was clearly and easily accessible.

All the mass transportation stops are integrated with another mode as well as with bicycles on rent. Bike rentals are exactly at the bus stops, so you can just get off the bus and rent a bike. This is what dispersal facilities are all about ? intermodal transfers are safe, convenient and supremely efficient, with practically no time lost in the transfer process. You get off the metro or the bus and take a bike on rent to your final destination where you can just drop the bike at the nearest stand. Or you get off the metro and take the tram to your destination.

Charges for renting bicycles are nominal, and after the initial registration charges, most people manage to cover their last mile trips for free, as these trip lengths are invariably less than half an hour. Work trips are therefore, mostly made using mass transportation as the primary mode of travel.

Vienna has had trams operating since 1865, and never really gave into the car culture. Trams are an integral part of the transportation system there and it is home to one of the world?s largest tram networks, covering over 170kms in length. We took the tram to get to and from the concerts ? and found they operate late into the night.

Even at St. P?lten, the venue of the conference where I had reserved rooms at a hotel in the pedestrian zone, we found that the pedestrian precinct was just across the road ? again, perfect integration. A short walk through cobbled streets labelled as ?Pedestrians Only? at their mouths took us to a beautiful, old, well-appointed pension. The heart of St. P?lten had been pedestrianised as far back as 1960s, and it has evolved over time into a highly efficiently managed precinct, with vehicles being permitted entry only during restricted hours. Buses provide the main mass transportation system in this small town.

Arriving at Salzburg, we found that the hotel was just a 10 minute walk away, and although the bus stops were right in front of the train station, we opted to walk to the hotel as the weather was so good and our experience of the footpaths in Vienna had been so great. We were not disappointed ? we dragged our cases about a kilometre along excellent footpaths, and checked into our hotel.

The entire ?Altstadt? or Old Town of Salzburg is pedestrianised, and at the heart are the Residenzplatz, the Mozartplatz, the Salzburg Cathedral and the Hohensalzburg Castle. The beautiful Baroque sculpture ? the Residenzbrunnen, considered the largest baroque fountain in Middle Europe ? is in the middle of this precinct. Salzburg was home to the famous composer Mozart, and every second building seems to carry his name. The fringes of the old city are served by buses and trams while the entire Old Town is closed to vehicular traffic during the day. Vehicles are allowed entry for a few hours in the early morning and again late in the evening, but the rest of the time, this incredibly beautiful area is left to pedestrians and bicyclists. The retail shops in these buildings house some of the most exclusive brands of clothing and accessories, and are teeming with tourists. The Salzer River runs through the town, and both the banks have beautiful cycle tracks running along them. Streets have very innovative barriers to vehicular traffic ? one has fountains of water shooting out across the pavement, others have hydraulic barriers that rise during the day, and are lowered after 7.00pm, while a few others have bicycle banks strategically located, clearly conveying the message that the street is closed to cars.

Innsbruck was another delight, with again a pedestrian heart and every inch fitted with measures meant to make travelling around the city a comfortable and stress-free experience. All these cities have traffic signals enabled for the visually disabled, and at Innsbruck, every street and traffic island had grooves to guide their canes.

All of Austria has been re-designed with people as the focus of planning. Mass transportation modes have been introduced to shift car trips to mass transport and non- motorised trips. All the MRT stops have been integrated ? the tram stops are exactly at the metro stops, and all these stops had bikes on hire also. The objective here is that you get off the metro, and take a tram to your final destination. Or if the tram doesn?t go, then you can either rent a bike, or walk.

Travelling through Austria was seamless, efficient, comfortable and stress free.

Bina C Balakrishnan
(Bina, an Independent Consultant in Transportation Planning, is passionate about sustainability. Her special area of focus is formulation of policies towards reducing the impact of transportation on the environment, and developing strategies for retrofitting urban areas for sustainability. She has worked on the World Bank aided Mumbai Transformation Project as Advisor with the Mumbai Transformation Support Unit of the Project. She had prepared the pre-feasibility report for BRT in Mumbai then.)
All photographs by Bina C Balakrishnan.

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