The Mariahilfer Strasse is a fancy, nineteenth century shopping boulevard in Vienna. In the last decades it became very heavy with traffic. The City of Vienna decided to transform the street into an inviting, pedestrian friendly avenue. The design was commissioned to Bureau B+B, together with the Viennese architects orso.pitro.
The 1,6 km long street is divided into three zones. Pedestrians rule the heart of the street. Local traffic, buses and suppliers are allowed in, but the street is blocked for cars passing through. Here people can stroll and linger freely. The two outer zones are designated ‘shared spaces’. In the shared space principle, cars, bikes and pedestrians all use the same space, causing everybody to be more considerate.
It took some time for the people of Vienna to get used to the idea of shared space: Viennese are fond of driving and did not want to give up the convenience of speeding through the Mariahilfer Strasse. Shopkeepers were afraid business would slow down with driving and parking less easy. There even was a referendum about the new design. Prior to the referendum, the City organized information meetings, together with the designers. Prototypes of the new outdoor furniture were placed in a test setup on the street, so the inhabitants could experience the difference. In the end 53% voted in favor of the design.
Today the Mariahilfer Strasse is paved from facade to facade on a single level. The street is divided into different zones by subtle lines in the pavement; a fast lane in the middle and slow lanes on the sides. Benches, water elements and planters are placed in the wide curbs. The pavement and the street furniture are made of granite from a local quarry, so the public space matches the buildings. The low branches were removed from the existing trees to make the street airy. The planters are filled with smaller, colorful trees, giving the city lounges a more intimate character. The public lounges create moments of tranquility within the bustling shopping street; a place where you can be without your credit card.
The transformation of the Mariahilfer Strasse has several positive effects on the city. Thanks to the dramatic reduction of traffic, there is less noise and pollution. Now, the street is inviting to walk and bike through, enhancing public health through exercise. Shopkeepers are very positive about the transformation. Business did not slow down: the laid back layout invites people to spend more time in the Mariahilfer Strasse, spending more money as a consequence. At the same time, people can hang out without consuming. The City Lounges offer an attractive and public alternative to the terraces belonging to cafés and restaurants.