Urban Pioneers: Vienna’s Walking Officer

8 April 2024

In the latest article of our Urban Pioneers series, Petra Jens dives into what it means to be Vienna’s Walking Officer. 

When Petra was a young mother of three, she noticed a problem in her city of Vienna. While cars, public transport and even cycling were being supported across the city, there was a noticeable lack of focus on pedestrian infrastructure. Taking matters into her own hands, she started her own campaign to boost walking in Vienna. Following this campaign, Petra applied to be Vienna’s Walking Officer. Eleven years later, she still holds this role. 

During this period, she has pushed to keep pedestrian issues at the forefront of the city’s priorities. Today, Vienna is a city bustling with pedestrian activity. Over a third of daily trips are made on foot. The pedestrian network is being expanded, sidewalks widened, school routes made safer and the overall quality of public spaces improved. 

Vienna’s leadership is even driving change at Austria’s national level. Building on the city’s ambition, authorities were convinced to create more funding for pedestrian infrastructure federally. In her interview with Eurocities, Petra explains why being a team player is crucial to creating change, the importance of connecting with citizens to hear their needs and how she’s tackling new challenges like motorised vehicles in the public space. 

What are you trying to achieve in your position?  

Put simply, my goal is to make walking visible as a means of transport for everyday trips. I am creating awareness of the needs of pedestrians and the benefits of accessibility in public spaces.

I work with great teams across the fields of communication and marketing, traffic planning and accessibility, mobility education and public affairs. I manage the mobility agency alongside Vienna’s Cycling Coordinator. Soon our office will have grown to a team of 20 people. 

Each day as Walking Officer is unique. I talk with citizens about their needs, connect with activists and scientists, network with colleagues from other cities, and support local authorities in improving pedestrian infrastructure. 

Some days we organise walks with citizens and even journalists to figure out what has changed in the walking network in a certain neighbourhood. Other days I’m sitting in meetings to discuss new legal rules to manage urban mobility. And other days, I do presentations for students, journalists or guests from abroad. No day is the same. 

What’s your personal motivation to do this job?  

When I was a young mother of three, I realised the importance of pedestrian traffic in the city and the need to emphasise it. Compared to cars, public transport and cycling, there was a major lack of focus on pedestrian traffic. 

This inspired me to start my own campaign and many people followed my lead. I applied to the job 11 years ago because of this desire to improving walking and I wanted to tackle the challenge. 

What are your main challenges? 

It’s very important to be a team player because walking is relevant in nearly every political field: public health, climate change, gender mainstreaming, social inclusion, city planning, spatial planning, economics and more. As Walking Officer,  it’s important to have a strong network of like minded colleagues across different fields.

Currently, I am concerned about the ongoing motorisation of active modes. I am totally on board with the decarbonisation of motorised traffic, however, I think it should take place on the car lane. Electric vehicles like e-bikes and e-cargobikes being used in urban logistics using cycling and walking infrastructure create a conflict in these spaces. This infrastructure wasn’t built for fast modes. 

When these motorised vehicles move onto bike lanes, curbs and in pedestrian zones these vehicles can hurt active mobility. Solving this conflict takes collaboration across the different teams. 

When was the last time you felt that your position had a positive impact on your city’s inhabitants?  

Three years ago, we managed to convince authorities on the federal level to open a fund for pedestrian infrastructure. Since then, nearly every district in Vienna has created its own strategy for walking and has been able to receive federal funding for walking infrastructure. This has been a total game changer for walking as a political issue.

If you had a magic wand, what could significantly improve the way you do your job?  

If I had more colleagues working in the field of walking, it would help make this issue more visible. We need more people in NGOs, citizen initiatives, municipalities, universities, politics and in traffic planning who are dedicated to improve walking in the city.

Pitch your job to other local, regional, national or European governments.  

If you invest in walking, you invest in everyone.
If you invest in walking, you improve public health.
If you invest in walking, you invest in better air quality.
If you invest in walking, you create a better society.
And all these benefits you get at very low costs.


This interview is part of ‘Urban Pioneers,’ a Eurocities series published every second and fourth week of the month spotlighting innovative and original job positions in municipalities across Europe. Each article in this series highlights a job position aimed at improving wellbeing, health conditions, society and the environment in cities. From tackling the urban heat island effect to countering gender imbalances to encouraging sustainable mobility, ‘Urban Pioneers’ showcases how cities are leading by example and breaking new ground in enhancing people’s quality of life. ‘Urban Pioneers’ jobs can inspire national, regional and EU authorities to create similar positions in their own structures, multiplying across Europe’s regions and nations the positive impact that started in cities.

Article one: Officer for Basic Research in Women´s Issues in Vienna

Article two: Malmo’s Skateboarding Coordinator

Article three: Amsterdam’s Bicycle Mayor

Article four: Brussel’s Bouwmeester Maitre Architecte

Article five: Munich’s Head of the Equal Opportunities Office for Women 

Article six: Vienna’s Integration Officer

Article seven: Antwerp’s Chief Resilience Officer

Article eight: Dortmund’s Night Manager

Article nine: BYCS’ Rome Bicycle Mayor

Article ten: Barcelona’s Time Policy Officer


Alyssa Harris Eurocities writer