German Journal of Urban Studies Vol. 46 (2007), No. 2 - Strategies for Action in Neighbourhood Mobility Design in Vienna - Gender Mainstreaming Pilot District Mariahilf

Eva Kail and Elisabeth Irschik

Strategies for Action in Neighbourhood Mobility Design in Vienna - Gender Mainstreaming Pilot District Mariahilf


The centrally located 6th district of Vienna Mariahilf is not regarded as a deprived urban district in the classical sense. The upgrading processes that have taken place in recent years have left their mark. Nevertheless, a closer look at certain target groups reveals that mobility opportunities are unequally distributed. In the gender-mainstreaming pilot district Mariahilf, specific measures have been taken in the public space. The 6 th district is a good example of a high-quality urban neighbourhood with good public transport services and good access quality for private motorised traffic that nevertheless accommodates groups disadvantaged with regard to mobility: people who generally travel on foot and whose life worlds have a strongly local orientation. Compensatory measures by the authorities are indispensable in their support.

Equality of Opportunity in Mobility through Gender Mainstreaming

Mobility opportunities depend very much on the individual life situation, and are determined by gender, age, and social origin.(1) As an equal opportunities strategy, gender mainstreaming provides for the inclusion of various spheres of interest in all decisions and measures. In questions of traffic and transport, they are relatively easy to understand, since personal surveys have always provided the basis for important transport policy decisions. The modal split is a key goal indicator. A gender-specific perspective is informative (cf. figure 1). In Vienna, 59 per cent of all car journeys are made by men, 60 per cent of all pedestrian trips by women (cf. Socialdata 2003). Gender-specific destination studies have shown that women in Vienna made over half more escort and shopping journeys than men. 50 per cent of these journeys are made on foot, which, in combination with working activities typically involve the complex coupling of journeys (cf. ibid.). Children, young people, and old people are also frequently out on foot close to home. They make greater demands on road safety, on barrier freedom, and on room for movement: young people and children on their way to their meeting places and playgrounds, as well as parents with prams and small children in tow. Children cannot accurately assess traffic situations and – in the sense of independent mobility – are therefore dependent on spaces secured against traffic. Older people want benches where they can rest en route, and barrier freedom becomes more and more important with advancing age.

Figure 1: Gender split: gender-specific differences in traffic behaviour

Source: Own presentation based on Socialdata: Ergebnisse einer Mobilitätsstudie im Rahmen der Erstellung des Masterplans Verkehr Wien 2003, Wien 2002.

Institutional and Political Background

The administrative authority responsible for gender-specific aspects of urban planning is the “Co-ordination Office for Planning and Construction Geared to the Requirements of Daily Life and the Specific Needs of Women” (2) in the Chief Executive Office-Executive Group for Construction and Technology. Vienna thus has a central institution with a professional staff of three that has been able to acquire a great deal of competence in matters of gender. Its area of responsibility includes interaction between social and technical/planning issues, and thus the optimisation of “social intelligence” in the activities of technical administrative authorities with a view to securing the equivalence of interests.

At his inaugural press conference in 2001, the current city councillor for urban development, traffic and transport Rudolf Schicker called gender mainstreaming an important cross-sectional issue, and commissioned the Co-ordination Office to develop a strategy for establishing gender mainstreaming in his area of responsibility. In the traffic and transport planning of the City of Vienna, gender mainstreaming was first taken into account as a general principle by the 2003 master plan Transport Vienna, which addressed pedestrian traffic in great detail.(3) The master plan thus provided an important basis for action in the gender mainstreaming pilot district of Mariahilf.

Gender Mainstreaming at the District Level

The decision to test gender mainstreaming at the district level was an obvious one: the administration’s task of preparing and processing decisions finds expression at this level in concrete projects and building measures. Furthermore, the financial responsibility for designing the public space lies chiefly with district councils, which hence exert strong influence on planning.(4) Traffic and transport policy in Vienna is therefore strongly decentralised with respect to the secondary road network.

Quality standards and internal departmental project standards, although centrally set, nevertheless provide scope for action, which is exploited in varying measure depending on the attitude of the district council towards traffic and transport policy.

The attitude of districts is also decisive for the measures to be adopted because staff in the competent departments generally react only when required to do so. They will take the initiative only in response to the demands of technical maintenance. However, most projects concerning the district street network are initiated by district political authorities.

Gender Mainstreaming Model Districts

A query addressed to all Viennese districts about their basic interest in a pilot project on gender-mainstreaming project in the public space drew an initial response from 20 of the 23 districts. However, there was sufficient capacity for the concrete application of gender mainstreaming in only one “pilot district.” It was therefore decided at least to support the remaining districts that had indicated their interest in this issue by providing appropriate documentation.

In the context of the “Gender Mainstreaming Model Districts” project, maps were therefore developed providing information on “network quality” and “network deficiencies” in the district. The material on “network deficiencies” records quality shortcomings in the public pedestrian network, overly narrow pavements, disruption by pavement parkers, pedestrian accident hotspots, lacking crossing facilities, bad walking surfaces. Identified destinations, like day care nurseries, general practitioners, paediatricians, orthopaedists, parks, and public transport stations and stops provided insight into predictable pedestrian traffic and any specific requirements as to breadth, experience value, and road safety. The purpose of this systematic description was to facilitate the prioritisation of measures in view of the limited resources available, and not only to propose isolated improvements but also to place measures in the context of a high-quality pedestrian route network.

Characteristics of the Mariahilf District

The 6th district, with a population of about 30,000, is part of the heavily built-up urban area. It is situated in the western inner city of Vienna between the inner (Ringstraße) and outer (Gürtel) ring roads. Mariahilf is a densely developed area with late nineteenth-century building stock. It is mainly residential, with only about 3 per cent of land being devoted to parks and other green areas. The grid-like block structure is broken by the pronounced topography and historical “islands” of older building stock. The urban renewal that took place in the 1960s and 1970s largely replaced and concentrated large parts of the pre-late 19 th century building structure, and since the 1980s, the historical fabric has been improved with due consideration to existing building stock.

The old, late 19th-century building stock, the social, open image of the district, and the central location have made the 6th district one of the most attractive residential areas in Vienna for young, urban sections of the population. A new “scene” has developed with restaurants, cultural establishments, and designer stores.

After a period of continuous decline, the rising population figures of recent years bear witness to the attractiveness of Mariahilf as a residential area.

However, these upgrading processes do not as a matter of course improve mobility conditions for all traffic participants in the public space. Mariahilf is easily accessible by private motorised transport and public transport, being bordered by three major streets and the busiest shopping street in Vienna, Mariahilfer Straße, and by four underground lines. The density of stops and stations is therefore very high. The district is served by five bus routes. Gumpendorfer Straße is the backbone of the district, an important axis for both motorised and non-motorised traffic.

The – for Vienna – very high proportion of streets narrower than twelve metres is due to the sections of the city plan dating from before the late-19 th century. Just under one quarter of pavements are under two metres wide, and crossing facilities are lacking at about half of all intersections (cf. Stadtentwicklung Wien, MA 18 2007, Nr. 83, 28 ff.). The strong increase in “Schanigärten” (5) in central areas, although enlivening the public space, is at the expense of pavements. Parking on the pavement and protruding vehicles in angled parking spaces also reduce the room available to pedestrians.

Connectivity in the 6th district is also affected by topography. The difference in height between the highest point on the Mariahilfer Gürtel and the lowest point in Wiental is 31 metres. A pronounced urban edge below Gumpendorfer Straße necessitates four large sets of stairs and many steps in the pavement. In all, there are some 50 such barriers in the district, of which 30 have no ramp.

Traditional Transport and Traffic Planning

The situation in Mariahilf in early 2000 was also the outcome of traditional transport and traffic planning. In urban areas that have developed in the course of history, traffic planning is primarily concerned with managing distribution conflicts between modes of transport from a spatial and temporal point of view. Pedestrian traffic is a “blind spot” in many areas of transport and traffic planning. For private motorised traffic, quality requirements have been set out in great detail and have strong normative force. The demands of public transport are also well taken into account in the planning process, and the position of bicycle traffic has been strengthened by environmental interests.

The demands of pedestrian traffic are generally taken into consideration only where planning faces no conflicting interests, and are treated as a negligible factor when it comes to balancing competing interests. Moreover, the quality demands seldom go beyond questions of road safety. Walking comfort, experience value, and “thinking” in pedestrian route networks are factors that play little part in managing planning conflicts. If such requirements for pedestrian traffic are to be identified, however, the immediate neighbourhood needs to be examined to establish whether facilities and destinations exist that are important for pedestrian access, and if other favoured routes cannot also be included in planning. The needs of pedestrian traffic therefore require extended and careful observation.(6)

Choice of the Gender Mainstreaming Pilot District Mariahilf

In November 2002, Mariahilf was selected as a pilot district to systematically test gender mainstreaming as a methodological approach to transport and traffic planning on the basis of the current public works programme of a district. Mariahilf was favoured because of the district’s focus on the public space and pedestrian traffic. Renate Kaufmann from the Austrian People's Party is the first social democratic district chairperson in 23 years. Apart from a framework decision by the district council on gender mainstreaming, the first district women’s commission in Vienna was installed in Mariahilf, and emphasis was placed on improving conditions for pedestrians. Although the smallness and homogeneity of the district guaranteed a surveillable process, the works programmes of the various municipal departments covered only part of the typical range of tasks entrusted to the given department. This intensified concentration on small-scale measures.

General Setting

The particular challenge posed by the gender mainstreaming pilot process was to foster awareness among technical staff of the social aspects of their activities, and hence of the target-group specific impacts of the measures undertaken. Departmental staff (7) participated in the Mariahilf pilot process because they were responsible for the 6 th district, not for reasons of personal engagement. Introducing new standards and points of view in planning processes that have in the past had their shortcomings and may thus require additional measures to be taken or at least a shift in emphasis, can normally count on considerable “systemic” resistance. One factor favouring the process was that most of the people responsible for transport and traffic affairs did not share the frequent fixation on private motorised transport, so that they were more than usually aware of the needs of pedestrian traffic.

Process management was in the hands of the Co-ordination Office. Two external planning firms, “tilia” and “PlanSinn” with experience in gender mainstreaming provided consulting and moderation services. The project was accompanied by a gender mainstreaming advisory board.(8)

The resources required for two basic studies, for process management, and public relations were provided by central administration to the tune of € 170,000.

Since the testing of gender mainstreaming proceeded in the context of the current planning and building works programme in the district, there was no separate district “gender budget” for implementation. The district modified budgetary priorities for the public space. The many measures were financed primarily at the expense of renewal intervals in technical maintenance (renewal of carriageway surfacing or renewal of lamps).


The pilot process proper was preceded by an intensive preparatory phase. In addition to Europe-wide research into gender mainstreaming best practices in planning, the Co-ordination Office commissioned a comprehensive survey of the pedestrian traffic situation in the entire 27 km. Mariahilf street network. The basis for this study were the equal opportunities goals and measures defined by the traffic master plan. The study identified extensive potential for improvements in the pedestrian situation. It introduced a hierarchized network of pedestrian routes as the basis for the pedestrian-oriented prioritisation of measures in the district.(9)

At the inaugural event in June 2004, all the municipal departments involved were called on to select pilot projects and procedures themselves from their works programmes in the district to show what different needs of the various target groups were affected. Consultation followed in 24 departmental coaching sessions with the external agencies and the Co-ordination Office. Appropriate methods were developed together. Municipal departments exchanged their experience in gender workshops.

The municipal departments responsible for road building, public lighting, and traffic organisation (28, 33, and 46) were chosen as “core departments” in 2005 because of their importance for the public space at the district level. The comprehensive application of gender mainstreaming was contractually agreed (annual performance agreements between municipal departments, Chief Executive Office, and the competent city councillors). During this phase of the project, the tools for establishing that gender mainstreaming was systematically taken into account were also refined: before each planning measure was embarked upon, the specific utility and/or disadvantages for the given type of traffic were recorded in a matrix. In order to strengthen awareness for the social dimensions of transport and traffic planning, a record was made of anticipated user groups (school children, older people, small children with escorts, etc., depending on the locality) in the area concerned and their routes, as well as the impact on vulnerable users with greater demands on quality (mobility-impaired persons, children travelling alone, etc.). For approving “Schanigärten”, construction sites, sales, and traffic light facility projects, guidelines were developed on how to justify any deviation from the minimum standards of the master plan.

Implemented Measures

Many improvements for pedestrian traffic were introduced in Mariahilf as a gender mainstreaming pilot district. For instance, some 1,000 metres of pavement were widened and 40 crossing facilities were constructed (33 pavement build-outs, 7 pavement extensions). In the vicinity of a primary school, a push button traffic light was programmed for immediate pedestrian green, and at three intersections pedestrians were given an advance to reduce conflicts with simultaneously turning vehicles. In five cases, steps were removed from pavements and a pram ramp and a lift were installed at stairs. Lighting was improved for pedestrians at 23 places, and three squares were redesigned.

Figure 2: Barrier-free redesign of Fillgradergasse: the aim of the pilot process is to create a continuous pedestrian route network

Source: Stadt Wien, Photo: PlanSinn - Büro für Planung und Kommunikation GmbH, Vienna.

A systematic approach heightens awareness for quality requirements. In the 6 th district, district councillors made acquaintance with conditions and needs in the course of local inspections, for example an inspection of “fear zones” by the district women’s commission or an inspection of barrier freedom in the public space by the district commission for the disabled. Some measures that have been implemented in the district in recent years have been based on these inspections, such as better lighting or the provision of a mirror in a winding passage.

Figure 3: Schmalzhofgasse: the pavement often used by senior citizens was widened

Source: Stadt Wien, Photo: PlanSinn - Büro für Planung und Kommunikation GmbH, Vienna.

The district administration pursues a “policy of small steps.” In principle, there is little scope for action in the heavily built-up urban area. Acceptance by local residents and business, who often react sharply to any loss of parking space, is decisive for the lasting success of measures to do with traffic and transport. The district therefore makes every effort to realise win-win projects that improve pedestrian accessibility without prejudicing other modes of transport. Examples are pavement build-outs and extensions, which, although they prevent illegal parking at intersections, do not restrict regular parking space.

But the district has carried out measures and argued in favour of them even when some parking space has been lost in the interests of barrier freedom, road safety, and walking comfort. For example, wider pavements and additional crossing aids put in place in the context of a civic participation project in Schmalzhofgasse cost eight parking places mainly to the benefit of residents of a nearby senior citizens' residence. In redesigning the Hofmühlgasse, preferred crossing points (mainly for school children) were identified elsewhere than at intersections. This “social sensitivity” of the district is also appreciated by the key people interviewed.(10)

The district also paid a great deal of attention to “quality in detail.” One example is the lengthening of handrails on the biggest stairs in the district. Quality assurance for pedestrians was also an important issue with regard to temporary measures like “Schanigärten,” sales, and constructions sites. Owing to frequent rehabilitation works, construction sites are very common in the district’s street space. In so-called construction site negotiations, for example, lighting has been demanded for pedestrian passages, and the duration of works and the space used to store materials have been criticised.

Limits to Implementation

Despite the successes achieved, the gender mainstreaming pilot district project also came up against limits. It proved much more difficult or impossible to satisfy the demands of pedestrian traffic and implement improvements in the primary street network, even when the streets involved were primary pedestrian routes. The prioritisation of private motorised traffic in the primary network is also apparent in the distinctly reduced openness of planners in weighing up interests. The opinion of the district plays less of a role than in matters concerning the secondary street network. The persuasive input was much greater. Despite intensive effort by district politicians, it proved impossible to ban through traffic from Gumpendorfer Straße.

Also, firms often failed to respect stipulations concerning building site installations. This meant that, although on paper permits met quality standards like leaving a two-metre wide pavement space, there was hardly any supervision owing to administrative staff shortages. And the possibilities of imposing sanctions are extremely few; the low fines that can be charged are no disincentive for business people. Differences in the views of financial and economic policy and traffic and transport policy on managing the public space prevent remedial legislation.

Difficulties also arose with the intensity of “tracking down” gender-related criteria. The technical authorities involved were accustomed to planning, taking technical standards into account and finding appropriate compromises. Moreover, they come under pressure when seeking to cut costs while maintaining technical standards. More and more matters have to be dealt with. Taking better account of the quality demands of pedestrian traffic requires more time input and much more detailed and differentiated observation. This went beyond the normal planning authority “canon of activities.” This was particularly apparent with fear zones, which cannot be objectively measured but only subjectively identified. Several practical examples were therefore needed to demonstrate the necessity of taking socio-spatial factors into account in planning. The limits to fostering greater awareness in gender mainstreaming are reached when the social impacts of technical measures are not taken into consideration or appreciated.

Factors for Success

Gender mainstreaming is a socially sensitive approach to planning that addresses needs in a differentiated fashion and takes the effects of decisions and measures on certain target groups into consideration. For the everyday practice of traffic and transport departments this is a novel approach.

A precise knowledge of internal procedures in municipal departments was therefore particularly important in establishing the new issue: the scope for decision-making can generally not be gauged at first glance, and becomes apparent only in the course of active participation in the administrative aspects of planning. This work on the spot made it much easier to present the case for equal opportunities than on the theoretical level. Acceptance of gender mainstreaming was thus enhanced and reservations among personnel were reduced. The Co-ordination Office broke down the quality requirements of the transport master plan for the administrative routine of transport department planners and foremen in the form of checklists and guidelines. In this top-down approach, political interest on the part of the city councillor for urban development, traffic and transport and process monitoring by a superior authority were important factors for success. Gender workshops and press tours encouraged innovative and active cooperation among the majority of the staff involved, no small matter in day-to-day administration. Effective presentation of the results was important for the dissemination of the process. In a brochure entitled “Sharing the City Fairly" (“Stadt fair teilen”) gave a lively presentation of the measures initiated by the Co-Ordination Office for district politicians, administrative staff, and planning firms. A folder on the pilot process was distributed to all households in Mariahilf.


With single measures, the policy of small steps achieved remarkable results, since the sum of these small-scale measures went beyond localised impact, taking on a network quality. The district chairperson reported the remark of an elderly resident that “Now you can really appreciate it, the wider pavements.” In the view of interviewees, things have indeed improved for older and mobility-impaired people, as well as for children.(11)

All in all, the gender mainstreaming pilot district Mariahilf succeeded in arousing greater awareness among both planners and politicians for pedestrian interests and interest beyond the 6 th district for the new planning strategy of gender mainstreaming. Taking systematic account of target-group interests was thus shown to be a precondition for upgrading the public space even in structurally strong urban neighbourhoods.


(1) In Mariahilf, were the middle classes predominate, gender and age presumably play a more important role than social origin. Like almost all inner-city, late-nineteenth-century urban neighbourhoods, the district suffers from overageing.

(2) Translators note: this cumbersome translation of “Leitstelle Alltags- und Frauengerechtes Planen und Bauen”, like that for other institutions and bodies in Vienna, is taken from the glossary “Die Organisation der Wiener Stadtverwaltung” made available by the City of Vienna ( The abridged form “Co-Ordination Office” will be used throughout the article.

(3) The Co-ordination Office headed the working group responsible for securing the interests of pedestrians. For example, a minimum width of two metres was fixed for pavements. The maximum walking speed for crossing the carriageway during a green light phase is limited to one metre per second.

(4) They exercise financial independence, for example, in planning, building, and maintaining the entire district street network, public street lighting, and parks and gardens.

(5) Viennese dialect term for small customer gardens in the public space in front of pubs and restaurants.

(6) For example, pedestrian crossings not located at intersections are not taken into account in the usual traffic audits.

(7) The following departments were heavily involved in the gender mainstreaming pilot process: Architecture and Urban Design (19), District Planning and Land Use (21A), Road Management and Construction (28), Bridge Construction and Foundation Engineering (29), Public Lighting (33), Traffic Management and Organisation (46), and the Markt Authority (59), which is responsible for supervising “Schanigärten”. In Mariahilf some 30 personnel (including 5 women) from these municipal departments are employed, and who were accordingly also involved in the pilot project.

(8) Composed of three women and three men from the fields of traffic planning, urban planning, and local government administration.

(9) A rough cost estimate on the basis of the study showed that the measures concerning the main network of routes could be realised within a five-year legislative period.

(10) In preparing this article, six key people were interviewed by the Co-ordination Office. They included experts from district politics and the municipality responsible for the 6th district, and a traffic and transport planner working in Mariahilf.

(11) This was reflected by the very good results in the district council elections in the autumn of 2005. The district chairperson was re-elected despite or because of aggressive public relations in favour of pedestrians. Among the districts with a social democratic majority, the political group in the 6 th district recorded some of the highest gains in votes. This electoral result was an important signal for other districts.


Irschik, Elisabeth/Kail, Eva/Prinz Brandenburg, Claudia (200