Sustainable Cities™

Vienna: "Bike-City" housing project stimulates soft mobility

The housing project "Bike-City“ focuses on the needs of bicyclists, but the true innovation came about by convincing the Vienna government to exempt the development from obligatory parking lot legislation. Accordingly, money that would have been put into constructing parking space has been invested in facilities that directly improve the resident's standard of living. The project has received a lot of attention and has already resulted in plans for another bike-city project in Vienna.

Legeplads i gården til Bike-City projektet, foto venligst udlånt af developer GESIBA

In 2008, a housing project with 99 flats affectionately known as "Bike-City" was opened to residents. The design of the development, which focuses on the needs of bicycle users, includes a number of bike-friendly features such as a garage for repairs, plenty of safe cycle storage space, large elevators, etc. However, the key ingredient to the masterpiece is that, instead of building the standard one automobile parking space for each household, only 50% of typically required parking facilities were constructed. In this sense, large amounts of money were saved and, after some of this saved money was used to make the aforementioned smaller, less expensive bike facilites, the leftover was invested in amenities such as a sauna, a relaxation room, community gathering areas and green space. With such a high standard of living at an affordable cost, the development was easily in high demand, leading the city to plan for yet another bike-city project in Vienna.  But private developers have caught on fast and are already starting up their own car-minimized plans.

The construction of "Bike-City" followed the successful realisation of Vienna's "Car Free Housing Project" in 2001. Both projects were initiated by Christoph Chorherr, a city councillor who has been a big proponent of urban mobility without automobiles. In the "Car Free Housing Project," which was developed by "Domizil" and "GEWOG" and designed by architects Cornelia Schindler and Rudolf Szedenik, 244 new apartments are available to residents who are committed to not owning a car. As an alternative, a car-sharing program is provided.

"Bike-City," which was developed by GESIBA and designed by the architecture firm, königlarch, takes a similar approach and uses many of the same concepts.  It still operates on the basic premise that money should be taken away from parking space and put into communal facilities that raise the standard of living.  Of course, "Bike City" has not been quite as radical as the "Car Free Housing Project," which constructed only 10% of typically required parking facilites.  Nevertheless, the new project has clearly shown developers that you do not need a market of devoted environmentalists to make a more appealing housing project simply by investing less in car facilities. Accordingly, both "Bike City" and the "Car Free Housing Project" have evaded Austria's legislation, which demands that a parking space is provided for each new flat that is built, and it seems that future developments will be able to avoid such laws as well.

Bike City housing project showing chaise longe in yard, Courtesy of building developer GESIBA

The success of both, the "Car Free Housing Project" and "Bike City" have elucidated some major shortcomings in Vienna's building policy and have exposed its car-user orientation. The projects have also gotten the city to realise that, if it wants to delve into its huge market of potential bikers and reap the benefits of larger amounts of communal space, better air quality, etc., it will need to introduce some infrastructural changes in its traffic system and perhaps provide extra incentives for bicycle use.  For the 99 flats in "Bike-City," there were over 5000 requests. In the short term, these numbers have at least gotten the City of Vienna to develop another "Bike-City" project close the Danube river with around 250 flats.  Next to this new development, a park and a hotel specialized for bicyclists will be constructed and the whole area will offer a close connection to public transportation.  Thanks to the successful model of the original "Bike City," it seems the way has been paved for Vienna's movement towards a sustainable future with a high standard of living.

Like many of Vienna's new housing projects all of these examples received subsidies (Wohnbauförderung) and have non-profit character. 

Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014