March 5th, 2019 by Erika Clugston
The Oslo city center is almost entirely car-free after eliminating parking spots and banning cars on certain streets. The Norwegian capital finished at the beginning of this year, removing the last of approximately 750 street-side parking spots within the city center and replacing them with bike lanes, benches, greenery and parks.
With nowhere to park in the city center, there are essentially no cars in downtown Oslo. A few exceptions are made for delivery vehicles during specific hours, spaces for EVs to charge, people with disabilities, and of course emergency vehicles. Parking garages outside the center are available to the public, with 9,000 available spaces, and drivers are diverted via traffic restrictions to use ring roads to bypass the city.
The changes have been gradual, with the first measures implemented mid-2017. Over a year and a half, the city slowly transformed. “Six pilot areas were established in the centre of Oslo, and in this area street parking have been transformed for alternative use,” Hanna Marcussen, Oslo’s Vice Mayor for Urban Development, told CleanTechnica. This is part of the government’s “car free city life initiative” aiming to improve urban living in Oslo within a four year program. “In addition, we have implemented restrictions on driving through the city centre and closed of more and more streets.”
They’re not stopping there. “In the long term perspective we are now finishing a new zoning plan for all streets within the city centre,” Marcussen says. “In the new plan, we turn the priority of different modes of transport around: In every street, pedestrians, cyclists and public transport will have a higher priority than private cars. In addition, we create a network of pedestrian zones throughout the city centre that are completely free of private cars.”
Not only is Oslo discouraging cars and prioritizing alternative modes of transportation, but it is making major improvements to the current infrastructure to make sure that the alternatives are enticing enough. “At the same time as we are making it more difficult to drive to the city centre we strive to make the alternatives attractive and easy to choose,” Marcussen explains. “We are therefore building bike lanes at a rate that has never been seen in Norway before, and we are improving the public transport system with cheaper prices, more departures, new trams and new metro lines.”
How has the city changed since becoming (almost) entirely car-free? The streets and businesses are bustling with pedestrians, and parking spots are transformed into reclaimed public spaces. Bike-sharing has reportedly tripled in the last three years and there has been a 10% increase in pedestrians in the center.
Of course, there has been a fair share of resistance to the transformation. “The reception to these changes has been mixed,” Marcussen tells us. “A lot of people are enthusiastic and eager to see more concrete changes. However, there are also some people worrying about the consequences and how it will affect local businesses and accessibility for those who still have to use a car. Change is always difficult in that sense.” However, she emphasizes that the city is maintaining a good dialogue with all the varying groups.
Ultimately, a car-free downtown is a significant improvement not only for air quality and climate change, but also enjoyment of space. “We experience that those areas in Oslo that are already car free are the most popular areas for all people; both inhabitants, tourists and also for business,” the Vice Mayor says. With less cars a city is more beautiful, easier to navigate, and healthier.
As cities worldwide continue to implement bans on old diesel vehicles and cars generally, there’s been lots of resistance. But it’s important to consider what a joy a car-free city can be. Let’s embrace the change. According to Marcussen, “That is also the experience from other cities internationally that has implemented car-free areas; they usually become some of the most attractive parts of the city.”
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