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How cycle-friendly are the proposed amendments to the Austrian road code StVO?

At the beginning of September, the Austrian parliament was presented with a long-awaited draft of the 30th amendment to the domestic road code, the “Straßenverkehrsordnung” (StVO). In it, the Ministry for Transport has both embedded improvements for cycle traffic, which have been negotiated for years now, as well as the pilot scheme “Turning right on red”. One of the highlights is the planned end for the dreaded “Ende” road markings signalling cyclists they have to yield their right of way.
Now the draft has been published for public consultation. We are taking a look at the six most essential changes for cyclists.

1) The end of the “Ende” markings (§2 section 1 lit 7 and §19 StVO)

Currently cycle lanes not only have to be marked with a bicycle symbol, they also have to have the word “ENDE” at their end. This also means that cyclists have to yield their right of way to the parallel running free-flowing car traffic as well as crossing cars. This can lead to dangerous situations and legal discrimination. If the StVO amendment is passed in its current version, these “ENDE” markings will vanish completely. This would also change the right of way: In future, when a cycle lane ends, the zipper effect is to be applied and the current special order to yield is dropped. Cyclists will then only have to yield the right of way if they leave cycle paths or mixed pedestrian/cycle paths not continued by a cycle crossing.

The legal draft also clarifies that vehicles continuing in their driving direction have the right of way over vehicles coming from the same direction but turning right. This serves to highlight the right of way cyclists have on continued cycle lanes on intersections. Cycle Competence member Radlobby Austria criticises parts of this measure: “Unfortunately this is only a partial improvement. For decades, the Radlobby has been fighting to achieve a complete elimination of this discriminating special yield. And we will also demand this in our comment on the draft law.”

2) Joint pedestrian and cycle crossings (§2 section 1 lit 12a StVO)

This virtually new type of cycle crossing is currently known among experts as “St. Pölten solution” or “ladder model”. A cycle crossing as continuation of a (mixed) pedestrian and cycle path can – according to the legal draft – in future be marked in the same space as a pedestrian crossing: The squares of the block markings are painted to the right and left of the spaces in between the stripes of the zebra crossing. Already applied markings of this kind in various provinces will finally get a legal basis under this new regulation.

3) Explicit cycling ban on a pedestrian crossing (§8 section 4a StVO)

A new ban will be introduced which many people already mistakenly think exists: vehicles, including bicycles, are to be banned from using a pedestrian crossing lengthways. The only exception will be the above-mentioned new mixed cycle crossings based on the “ladder model”. A legal submission by the independent administrative panel (UVS) in Styria from 1996 had noted: “It cannot be derived from the StVO that cycling on pedestrian crossing is illegal.” Now, this would change completely. Radlobby’s comment: “The new regulation would create a lot of road sections where bicycles would have to be pushed. A clear step backwards towards the aim to double cycle traffic.”

4) Flexible use of cycling infrastructure by cargo bikes (§68 section 1 StVO)

The current draft for the road code StVO includes two new regulations aimed at adjusting the obligation or inversely the ban to use cycling infrastructure to the needs of people using transport bikes. Single-track bicycles with a wheelbase of over 1.7m (e.g. Bakfiets, Bullit, Long John, MCS Truck) will no longer be obliged to use cycle paths. Multi-track bicycles and trailers are to be allowed to use cycling infrastructure if they are less than 1m wide (e.g. Christiania, Nihola). This last regulation will facilitate mobility with transport bikes mainly used by parents with their children. They will no longer be forced onto the car lanes. The first improvement will apply to bicycle models mainly used by delivery services. Their users will then be allowed to keep off inadequate cycling infrastructure. This creates freedom of choice for many cargo bike users.

Radlobby criticises an unaddressed problem: “Single-track bicycles with a wheelbase of less than 1.7m – no matter how wide they are – still have to use bicycle paths” (unless these are marked by square signs).

5) Bicycle pass for children already from the age of 10 (§65 StVO)

The amendment reduces the waiting period for the bicycle pass allowing children to ride their bicycle alone after the voluntary cycling test in the fourth grade. After the 10th birthday every child in the fourth grade will be able to get the bicycle pass. There will also be changes for children using so-called “scooters” without parental supervision. So far children under the age of 12 have to be supervised by a person of at least 16 years of age when using vehicle-like toys (mini scooters, children’s bicycles with a rim diameter of up to 300mm) on sideways and pedestrian paths. In future, this obligation for supervision will be dropped, if the vehicle is solely muscle-powered.

Radloby’s comment: “A step in the right direction. But for self-determined mobility of children much more is needed!”

6) Legal basis for pilot scheme “Turning right on red” (§38 section 5a and §54 StVO)

This amendment was not included to bring the often debated and internationally widely implemented special right for cyclists to turn right on red to Austria at specially marked intersections. It was triggered by the pilot scheme announced by traffic minister Norbert Hofer to research turning on right for all vehicles. So far it is not possible to interpret traffic lights differently even for academic purposes. The amended StVO would give the minister leeway to allow turning on red at certain intersections by decree – for all vehicles up to 7.5t (including trucks and busses).

For these intersections with traffic lights, the amendment will introduce a new traffic sign as an add-on: A green arrow on a white background pointing right – similar to the one used in Germany since GDR times (pictured). Allowing research in this field is a step the Radlobby views as positive in principle, but it criticises the actual implementation: “Including all vehicles up to 7.5t in the current legal draft and limiting it to turning right on red creates some problems. As is well known, turning on red is very safe for bicycles – cf NL, DK, BE, FR – for cars, however, substantial security risks can be expected, as shown in tests in Germany and the US. Additionally, the amended draft is limited to turning right while e.g. pilot schemes in France also deemed other situations safe for cycle traffic. Radlobby is therefore demanding to limit the changed meaning of traffic signals to cycle traffic for safety issues. Additionally the draft should be opened to include other situations beyond turning right.”

This up-to-date solution for turning right on red for cyclists is already common in many European countries as Radlobby has shown in this ARTICLE. In Austria, this solution can neither be tested via the amendment nor does it make its implementation possible.

Consultation phase until mid September

For interested parties all information on the amendment is available here on the parliament’s website. The consultation phase will end on 18 September 2018. All citizens and representatives of lobbying groups can submit a written statement up to this date.
The article was written in cooperation with Cycle Competence member Radlobby Austria.
Photos: Presssedienst Fahrrad, Abendzeitung, Radlobby, Stadt Wien

Posted on September 14, 2018