Interview with Andreas Rabl, Mayor of Wels on 11 October 2016
with transport councillor Klaus Hoflehner, Bicycle Coordinator Eva Berghofer and Markus Hochsteiner, President of the association „Welser Radler“
Kloss: How do you get people on bikes in Wels?
Rabl: First, important is to create and improve bicycle infrastructure, f.i. bicycle parkings in sufficient extent, best with roofs, because when it rains cycling becomes an agony with a wet bike. Secondly, to create regional bicycle paths that bring one safely from A to B. It’s not sufficient to create only bicycle paths in the city of Wels but we have to look beyond the border. There is a project with the other neighbour communes, in which we develop bicycle paths on an east-west and north-south axis, so you can cross Wels quickly without danger. There is also an EU-project starting for this plan.
Kloss: Many cities set goals and strategies to foster cycling, increase the share of cyclists and improve the infrastructure. Are there such goals for Wels?
Rabl: Wels participated in a smart city project, in which energy-efficient cities shall be constructed. This starts with very small measures such as creating sidewalks and bicycle paths between streets. Latest example is the bicycle path between Traunuferstreet and Kolpingstreet. This is consequently done in all new developed areas to enable this walk- and bike-friendly settlement structure to strengthen the bicycle against the motorized traffic. These forward-looking projects were not invented in Wels but watched many years in Vienna and Graz and should be reproduced.
Kloss: I think a big topic for Wels is the quality of the infrastructure regarding the width of the bicycle paths, in the 80s the sidewalks were just divided with a white stripe. This leads to conflicts and not everybody is brave enough to cycle there. One criterion for a bike-friendly city is when a mother with kids feels save to cycle. Are there efforts from the City of Wels to reduce the number of cars and parkings to create more space for bicycle paths?
Rabl: I think this is a question of infrastructure measures when new constructed. We discuss currently the opening of the one-way and three-lane Eisenhowerstreet and proof to create a separate bicycle path. In practice it is always a question of costs. I am not a fan of reshape functioning streets, but for new streets we can establish a new standard, so the systems improve. Everything else would evoke the incomprehension of the citizens.
Kloss: Apropos citizens, there are proposals for main bicycle routes from the local bicycle club Welser Radler.
Rabl: Yes we know them. At the Römerwall – Eisenhowerstreet – Bahnhofstreet is a difficult sector with an interrupted bicycle path. We have to find a solution for this. In the past we created new bicycle parkings f.i. at the Kaiser-Joseph Square, also in consultation with the Welser Radler.
Kloss: Mobility is really a central topic for the City of Wels, when it wants to brand itself as city of renewable energy and energy efficiency. 50% of the emissions are caused by the motorized individual traffic, so there is a very high potential to save energy and reduce the emissions.
Rabl: In Wels it is often difficult to do your things without a car. There is a project with the Electricity supply company for an e-car-sharing system. This doesn’t help the cycling traffic, but is still a way to reduce the car traffic and the emissions, when for instance 15 -20 families share one car.
Kloss: That’s absolutely the future, also mobility points that combine public transport, car- and bike-sharing stations.
Rabl: We can’t say yet if this is the future, we have to test this on a small scale as a pilot project.
Kloss: Concerning the costs, bicycle infrastructure is the most favorable infrastructure concerning costs and not difficult to build.
Rabl: We once tested a bike sharing system, also with e-bikes, but it was not that accepted as we hoped.
Gruszyk: We have seen cities establishing bike sharing systems, but without creating cycling infrastructure it makes no sense, when you don’t feel safe on the streets.
Rabl: Vienna has a bike sharing system for about 15 years, and still the share of cyclists is modest.
Kloss: Actually Wels is perfect for cycling since it is small and flat.
Rabl: I agree, but I think public transport is the very best to supply the residential areas. We have started a project to improve the connections between the residential areas in the west, east and north to the city center.
Hochsteiner: That’s exactly our proposal: the main cycle routes. Our big wish of the Welser Radler is: realize one! And not only 50 signs. That’s not a main cycle route, no infrastructure, that’s ridiculous. As long as there is no continous infrastructure from the north to the Traun, this is not a main cycle route.
Rabl: Exactly this is the reason why I said it needs regional projects, connections between east-west and north-south, and where we see the demand we have to examine and make a master plan, to know the goals and embed them in a holistic concept of the city.
Hochsteiner: Working on a master plan would be beautiful, which we haven’t had before.
Hoflehner: This is sure to come from my point of view.
Rabl: We talked to the mayors of the neighbour communes, it needs a project assignment, which we have to get approved by the land etc. but this will be assigned and the other neighbour communes will be included.
Gruszyk: Is there a continous collaboration with the local bicycle club Welser Radler or a bike platform?
Hoflehner: The Welser Radler are already committed for years. There are meetings from time to time and there is a bicycle coordinator as link.
Gruszyk: What must happen for such a bike platform?
Rabl: It just has to be called, but it has to make sense. From my point of view this works best with an implementation project.
Hochsteiner: Our wish would be half annual meetings with the transport committee, so the Welser Radler get informed about plans and can join the discussion. This happened only once.
Kloss: How high is the share of cyclists in Wels?
Berghofer: 9,7%, estimation of 2012, and it’s going down continously.
Rabl: Well it increased continuously and once it decreased. Once the figure decreased and the newest figure we don’t know.
Hochsteiner: There is a goal from a city council decision from November 2013 to reach a share of cyclists of 20% until 2020.
Kloss: What is the future of urban mobility in Wels?
Rabl: I think the upgrade of public transport is very important, this concerns also the regional transport and train connections Wels – Linz, which have highest priority. Plans for bicycle infrastructure I have mentioned before, they depend on the bigger plans. I think a big challenge is e-mobility, whatever cycling, motorbikes or cars, how to develop charging infrastructure all over the city. How will we react as City to e-mobility. I don’t think that we can reduce the individual traffic significantly by public transport, because it lacks of a higher population density per km², but I think we can achieve a shift from individual traffic to any kind of e-mobility, because it creates advantages. And cycling gets more and more convenient also because of warmer seasons probably due to climate change, cycling becomes more comfortable also in September and October, because the weather is playing a certain role whether I use the bike or not, at least speaking for myself.
Kloss: What’s the average number of snow days in Wels?
Rabl: 21 days. I can only say, cycling to work with a suit in wet weather is impossible, without getting dirty. This just doesn’t work. I can do that when I have a job where I wear jeans and a sweater, but when this is not the case, it’s getting difficult.
Gruszyk: We talked to the mayor of Kiel, he goes to work by bike and there is a shower in the town hall, so it can work.
Rabl: It’s a question of habits. I can only speak for my circle of friends and experiences, that the weather and clothes are a problem for cycling. There are rain coats, yes everything is possible, but in this town hall we have no shower, but I like to think of this suggestion, maybe at the next modification a shower gets built in (laughs).