Why Oslo Is Saying No to Cars in Its City Center

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By 2019, the streets of central Oslo will be completely car-free. Well, almost. (Photo: United States Army Band/flickr)

Norway will soon be an even better place than it already was to live a car-free lifestyle.

As reported by Reuters, the use of private cars will be phased out from Oslo's bustling city center by 2019 to make way for 37 miles of new bike lanes and additional public transport options. With a population of roughly 650,000, the capital of Norway serves as Norway’s governmental and economic center.

"We want to have a car-free center," Lan Marie Nguyen Berg, newly elected lead negotiator for Norway’s Green Party in Oslo, explained to the local media. "We want to make it better for pedestrians, cyclists. It will be better for shops and everyone."

The final step involves removing the last remaining 700 public parking spots in the city center by the end of the year.

"We’re doing this to give the streets back to the people," Hanna Elise Marcussen, Oslo’s vice mayor for urban development, told The New York Times. "And of course, it’s environmentally friendly."

A growing trend across Europe

Other major European cities have experimented with varied methods of limiting vehicular traffic to curb mounting air pollution levels. Madrid has established sizable car-free zones across the city for non-residents. Smog-chocked Milan offers public transportation vouchers to car-eschewing denizens. London slaps motorists with a hefty “congestion charge” if they aren’t behind the wheel of an electric vehicle while driving through the city center. Amsterdam, a city with so many bikes that there’s nowhere to park them, has tried doing away with automobiles for short periods.

And then there’s Paris. In addition to placing a ban on dirty diesel cars in its city center and limiting traffic during short periods with particularly poor air quality, the City of Lights went completely car-free for a day this past month. The result was surreal, eerie and totally amazing.

No matter how noble, all of these efforts pale in comparison to what’s been announced in Norway as Oslo is poised to become the first European capital to enact a comprehensive permanent ban on car traffic in its city center.

Of course, there will be exceptions. Public vehicles of all sorts, buses and trams included, will not get the boot from Oslo’s downtown core. Special accommodations will be made private vehicles carrying passengers with disabilities. Delivery vehicles that need to access the myriad stores, restaurants and other business within the car-free zone will also get some sort of pass — it’s business owners within the city center that have voiced the most opposition to the air pollution-combating scheme.

As reported by The Guardian, while only 1,000 or so Oslo residents live in the city center, 90,000 residents work there. Eleven of the city’s 57 major shopping centers are also located within the soon-to-be-car-free zone.

There’s a concrete goal — and a deadline — behind the car-free scheme: a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Prohibiting private cars in Oslo's city center is just part of a larger plan to reduce emissions by 50 percent by the year 2020 in comparison to 1990 levels.

Beyond the city center, city leaders aim to reduce car traffic in all of Oslo by 20 percent by 2019 and 30 percent by 2030.

Perhaps what’s most exceptional about Oslo’s kibosh on motor vehicles is the speed at which the phase-out will occur. Four years is aggressive and quick, especially for a Scandinavian nation that operates at a more slower, simpler, more measured (read: less stressful) pace.