Blog #125: Friday Night Fun

June 22, 2023
Monika Weber-Fahr
Who was it who said about people with an environmental consciousness that we cannot have fun? No idea, but whoever might even think such odd thoughts could not be more mistaken - and all it takes to prove it is to go to Heldenplatz on Friday nights at or around 9 pm during most summer months.  What happens there feels like magic.  Hundreds - sometimes thousands - bicyclists and inline skaters are gathering there, all in a good mood, many decorated creatively with lights of all sorts.  Some participants look very professional, with fast-moving roadbikes and the appropriate gear - others come with their ViennaMobilBike, or whatever other bikesharing app they are using. In the meantime, loud music - very loud music - usually a mix between the most recent top 10, Austro pop and Rock classics, is shared across the group via some gigantic loudspeakers installed in a green car right in the middle of the Platz. And once that green car gets going, the fun begins!
It’s called Friday NightSkating, and from a formal perspective it is a (political) public statement against the often existing preference for cars in urban planning, a demonstration for more urban spaces to be made available to skaters and bicyclists (and those moving around on foot). The Austrian Green Party has been organizing it for years but it has long ago lost the feel of party politics and become more of a feast. And while these evenings do feel festive, they are organized entirely without food or drink (what you consume is strictly byo), drawing solely on the joy that comes from freely cycling or skating right in the middle of the big wide streets of Vienna that are normally reserved for cars.
Foto: Most Friday nights during the summer you can join Friday NightSkating - an activity that is both fun and a political statement for investing in safe spaces for bicyclists and sakters across town. Come to Heldenplatz by 9pm on any given Friday and chances are that you will get to enjoy a view of Vienna you have not had a chance to experience before (note: this week's NightSkating is canceled due to the Danube Island Festival).  The Facebook site offers updates on dates and times.
These evenings are a joyous affair indeed. I can’t quite explain why - and it is somewhat puzzling to me since cycling in a large group of overexcited people I never met before is normally not my idea of happiness. But doing so on these Friday nights is pure joy for me - and visibly so also for many others. Probably because it feels so extraordinary to have the streets to ourselves - there is a sense of taking back the urban space in the group, and combined with music and the carefree atmosphere of a beginning weekend the whole affair becomes a mini-vacation right in the middle of town.
Friday NightSkating events do make a political point: The usually large number of participants, between 300 and 3000 depending on the weather and the routes, is a strong statement directed at Vienna’s city government and mobility agency, asking them to keep working on further expanding spaces for safe cycling (and safe skating). Vienna, just having been rated yet again the World’s most livable city, is fairly bike friendly but it did not make it on the most recent list of top 10 cities for bicyclists. A few years back, it was among the top 20, but already then commentators pointed to gaps in investment planning, and as a frequent bicyclist I know why. There are still too many streets in Vienna on which cyclists - even on marked cycling paths - are exposed to risks posed by cars. Indeed, the number of cyclists injured or killed in traffic accidents has been rising steadily over the past years, even though under normal circumstances having more bicycles on the road should lead to car drivers paying more attention, resulting in less accidents. So it's a good thing to remind city planners and fellow Viennese occasionally of the need to take more action here.
In the meantime, the Friday NightSkating organizers do a lot to keep the hundreds - and sometimes 1000s - of participants safe.  Police cars in the front and the back and friendly police along the way make sure that regular car traffic stays away. There are plenty of orderlies skating up and down the otherwise reasonably slowly moving rows of cyclists and skaters, reminding everyone of what good behavior constitutes and helping out when someone falls. The tour sports lots of well thought through rules - bicycles in the middle, skaters outside, no racing, and considerate behavior everywhere.  Of course, neither cycling nor skating are always entirely risk free. A few years back my brother - a little overconfident as a skater perhaps - got his blades stuck in one of the many tram tracks that we crossed, fell and broke a leg. Completely recovered by now, he is still amazed though that his accident at the time did not cause havoc amongst the large group of skaters and cyclists surrounding him; overall, NightSkating is a well orchestrated and by and large a safe undertaking.
So will you join me, in the coming weeks, for a Friday NightSkating? This coming Friday, activities are canceled due to the festivities on the Danube island, and next Friday, June 30, our retreat at Gottweig takes priority for me. As you consider joining, do note that routes vary and every time a different part of the cities’ streets get closed and used for Friday NightSkating.  Routes for July and August are already online, and all you need to do is show up on Heldenplatz on a Friday just before 9 pm - with your bicycle or your with your blades strapped on
Are you ready to roll!?
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