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Oslo - The (Almost) Car Free City
FEBRUARY 22, 2021
The UK’s electric revolution is gaining momentum. As national charging networks improve and the range of cars on offer grows, more and more drivers are opting for battery-powered vehicles. One city, however, is taking a different approach to low-carbon transport.
Welcome to Oslo
Oslo, the capital of Norway, is home to almost 700,000 people, making it the nation’s most populous city. It is known to locals as ‘The Tiger City’, a nickname dating back centuries to when people from the countryside excitedly visited the wild ‘New York of Norway’. They said it would make a mark on your soul. There is no shortage of hustle and bustle in Oslo but there is one common feature of modern life that you won’t see – cars.
The inner city centre is almost entirely car-free, having undergone a gradual phase-out from 2017-2019. It was part of the government’s ‘car free city life initiative’, a four-year programme of changes designed to improve urban living in Oslo. The city aims to be carbon neutral by 2030 and transport was an important area to tackle, producing far more emissions than sectors such as buildings and waste.
Photo credit: oslo.kommune.no
How Did They Do It?
Oslo took a subtle approach. The idea was to flip the appeal of different modes of transport. Pedestrians, cyclists and public transport gained a higher priority than private cars, thus encouraging the use of more environmentally friendly travel.
Part One involved discouraging driving. An outright ban on cars would have been unpopular, so instead, the city simply removed parking. There are still large parking garages on the outskirts, but 750 street-side parking spaces were eliminated from the city centre, massively discouraging driving in downtown Oslo. Cars were banned on certain streets and congestion tax and road tolls were increased. Drivers trying to cross the city are now diverted by traffic restrictions to ring roads, rather than routes through the centre. There are a few obvious exceptions to the ‘no cars’ rule – emergency vehicles, delivery vehicles and disabled parking, for example.
Part Two involved making the alternatives more attractive. Parking spaces were replaced with bike lanes and pedestrian networks, along with benches, greenery and parks to make travel by foot more appealing. Grants for buying cargo bikes were introduced, so people could carry shopping, work equipment or even their children with them while cycling. Public transport infrastructure was also improved, with new trams and metro lines, electrified for bonus environmental brownie points. Prices became cheaper and departures more frequent, making public transit more appealing than driving.
What About Electric Cars?
Electric vehicles (EVs) are the exception to rule and are not discouraged in Oslo. There are designated spaces for EV drivers to park and a former dungeon-turned-bomb-shelter was even converted into an EV charging hub.
As a nation, Norway is well on its way to an electric future. It is a world leader in EVs and there are plans to ban the sale of petrol- and gas-fueled cars within a few years. The country’s aviation authorities are even considering using electric planes for short-haul flights. The environmental benefits of an electric transport sector would be huge, as most of Norway’s domestic electricity is produced by renewable hydropower.
Giving the City Back to the People
Oslo’s car free initiative was a success. Traffic in the city centre dropped dramatically and people shifted to low-carbon methods of transport – the number of pedestrians on the streets increased and bike sharing tripled! As a result, levels of harmful emissions that contribute to climate change have fallen. In fact, the European Commission awarded Oslo the title of ‘European Green Capital’ of 2019.
Aside from the environmental benefits, the move away from cars has improved the city in numerous other ways. Oslo has become safer, being the only major city on the planet to report no pedestrian or cyclist deaths in 2019. Reduced pollution has led to improved air quality, and the city is more beautiful thanks to new green spaces.
It’s been good for local businesses too, as an increase in pedestrians has resulted in increased consumer spending. There are more public areas that everyone can enjoy, with the car-free parts of the city now the most popular spots with inhabitants and tourists. The Mayor of Oslo said they had “given the city back to the people and the children”.
Photo credit: thepolisblog.org
An Example to Follow?
Decarbonising cities is a vital step in reducing global warming. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), cities are responsible for around three-quarters of global carbon emissions. The good news is that urban areas are well placed to address environmental issues, with excellent access to infrastructure and independent control over land and buildings.
Transport is a key sector to tackle, contributing around one fifth of global carbon dioxide emissions. And whilst flying often gets a bad eco-reputation, roads actually account for the majority of transport emissions (Our World in Data). Oslo provides a leading example of a low-carbon urban transport system, but it isn’t the only city to have caught on to the benefits of fewer traffic-jams – places like Madrid (Spain), Hamburg (Germany) and Helsinki (Finland) are all working towards car-free initiatives too.
If you’re looking to cut your carbon footprint, ditching your petrol/diesel car and opting to walk, cycle or drive an EV is one of the most impactful changes you can make. For more information on going electric, check out our page on electric vehicle chargepoints.