This blog post was published under the 2015 to 2024 Conservative government

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Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of UK in Austria

3rd June 2020 Vienna, Austria

Cycling in Vienna: diplomatic, healthy and green

The freshly oiled crank purrs like a sewing machine. The sun has come out from behind the clouds, casting a silverish gleam on the Danube.  There is a mild breeze. Hundreds of people are cycling on Vienna’s 21 kilometre-long Danube island and I am one of them. To me this is pure happiness.

Cycling is one of the most popular leisure activities worldwide. For many people it is also an efficient, healthy and green means of transport. In the UK, perhaps inspired by some remarkable elite sporting achievements (a British rider won the prestigious Tour de France in six out of the last eight years and the UK has won 19 Olympic gold medals in cycling since Beijing 2008), cycling popularity has increased steadily.

According to the British Department of Transport, around 11% of England’s adult population cycle at least once per week; and the distance covered on these bike trips has increased by 50% since 2002. Over the course of the last five years, the British government has invested around £1.1bn in cycling and walking infrastructure, aiming to boost cycling while increasing road safety for cyclists.

Austria also has some fantastic cycling infrastructure. The city of Vienna, like London, has recently transformed selected roads into pop up bicycle lanes following increased cycling traffic after the c19 lockdown.  Unlike London, Austria also has some stunning Alpine cycle trails, although you have to be pretty fit!

Großglockner Hochalpenstraße

I can still remember getting my first bike in Lesotho (shiny, black, thrilling) in 1965.  As a teenager in Manchester I had a wonderful Sun racing bike, bought second-hand in 1972 for a princely £10 including an iron-hard Brooks racing saddle, which took me everywhere, whether to late night parties or on the daily 8 km each way from Camberwell to Westminster for work at a time when cycle lanes were still a distant dream.  I continued to cycle in Austria 1984-87 (I was the proud owner of a Steyr Waffenrad); in Germany in the 1990s (my present bike dates from Bonn in 1998); and now in Austria.

Mending a flat on the London-Brighton bike ride 1988

When I arrived in Vienna as British Ambassador I was delighted to link up with my Danish colleague and cycle to the Austrian President’s New Year’s Reception, rather than taking an official car.  It has become a tradition for us now which I have kept even in rainy and snowy weather.

In order to encourage more members of Embassy staff to cycle to work engagements in the city, the Embassy has three designated British Embassy bikes – now complete with flags.

As the UK is preparing to host the COP26 climate summit next year, we are keen to reduce our CO2 footprint where possible.  According to a survey, 17% of British commuters have said they are more likely to cycle to work following the coronavirus pandemic.  Cycling, besides its many health benefits, is also a sustainable, ultra-low-carbon form of transport.

I look forward to seeing you on my bike: on the Danube Island, in the city, or perhaps on the way to the President’s next New Year reception.

About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.