Oslo, Norway – the first car-free capital in the world

If I told you that they are building a completely car-free city in Europe, would you believe me? Well, you should. Simply because it is true. Some politicians up in cold Scandinavia one day got an idea to phase out all cars from Oslo city center. What seemed like a utopia to start with actually grew slowly into a serious political proposal. When a political party called Miljøpartiet De Grønne [“The Green Environmental Party” in English] got loads of votes in the local government election back in 2015, things really started to happen.

What are the exact plans to make Oslo a car-free city?

One of the biggest Norwegian newspapers, Aftenposten, wrote an article about the latest plans. They mapped out (literally) which streets that will be 100 % car-free by the next years. This is their illustration:

As you probably don’t understand Norwegian, let me quickly tell you how Oslo will look like:

Map of the “new” Oslo. Photo: Aftenposten

Explanation:

– The green areas are park areas. They will remain untouched.
– Purple streets represent the streets that 100 % sure will become car-free.
– Blue streets are marked blue as they have the potential to be turned into car-free streets. In the longer run, these will be re-built to give better walking and cycling climate.

On the Oslo governments` own website, they have published an even better overview of the “car-free zone”:

Car-free zone. Source: Oslo Kommune/Google Maps.

Please note that certain cars will be allowed to drive within the city center. Ambulances, police, firemen, companies that need to supply shops and restaurants with food & drinks, etc.

So how should people get around fast in Oslo?

Needless to say, lack of cars needs to be compensated by excellent public transport. The current bus- and subway-system is good, but not good enough. However, the local politicians have already made huge plans for increasing the number of (electric) buses driving through the streets of Oslo. In fact, the Norwegian government recently invested in 72 new electric buses that will cover most of the central areas – in addition to the current gas driven ones.

Also read: Food Safety in Norway [information for tourists]

If you got a bicycle in Oslo, you will be considered very efficient. Over the last 10 years, the government have built an increasing number of dedicated bike roads. And no: electronic vehicles and scooters are not allowed to drive on those.

A car-free city can seem inefficient and difficult to live in when you first hear about them. However, there are so many solutions to all the “problems” that it is just all about a slight adjustment in your daily life.

Why do politicians want to make Oslo a car-free city?

You might assume that Oslo is one of the capitals in the world with the cleanest air. And that assumption is absolutely correct.

However, there is always room for improvement. And local air pollution is actually one of the most frequent arguments for a car-free city center. Aqicn.org is a website that gathers air pollution data from almost all of the cities in the world. If you go into their information site about Oslo, you will see that the PM 2.5 levels often range between 5 and 30. That is very low. If you want to know where Beijing scores, you can read this article that I wrote from the year I lived in Chinas` capital city.

Planting trees and removing cars seem to be not only the most popular but also the most efficient political tools in order to improve the air quality of a city.

Other cities with car-free zones in the city center

Oslo is not alone – nor the first city that will shut down their central areas for cars. This is a list of other car-free cities:

Copenhagen, Denmark

41 % of all the inhabitants in Copenhagen choose to bike to work and school. Not only do Denmark offer the best urban bike tracks in the world, but they have also created a huge domestic bike culture. I guess you also can see that on their success in Tour de France?

The main street in Copenhagen, called Strøget, is completely shut down for all car traffic. It connects the beautiful harbor with the central area of the city and is a “must-see” for tourists.

Ghent, Belgium

This Belgium city shut down most of its city center for car traffic in 1996. According to some newspaper reports I could trace back to the 90`s, the reason was that the air pollution was getting worse and worse every year. In addition to that, people simply struggled to get to work in time as the infrastructure simply could not handle the number of cars on the road.

Several years after the “car free center initiative” was implemented in Ghent, a report was published on stepupsmartcities.eu. These are some of the positive effects the city have seen after 1996:

– More cyclists on the roads.

– Less cars [naturally. After all, they are banned!]

– More people tend to use the restaurants, cafes and bars in the city center.

– Improved air quality.

You can read the full report here: https://www.stepupsmartcities.eu/Portals/51/Documents/Ghent%20Car%20free%20city%20centre.pdf

Ljubljana – a green, car-free city

After posting this article on our Facebook page, we got a comment from a woman that made us aware of Ljubljana. According to the Facebook comment, the capital of Slovenia has in recent years become a very environmentally friendly city. Close to zero air pollution, excellent infrastructure for pedestrians and bikers – and what is the reason? No cars in the city center.

Citylab.com published the best article out there about Ljubljana’s` transformation. Below the article “How Ljubljana Turned Itself Into The Green Capital of Europe”, you hear stories about recycled waste, “zero waste” strategy, bike infrastructure and…no cars.

But let us focus on the efforts that the local government have made in order to minimize polluting traffic in the city center:

1) Ljubljana got the best bike-sharing system in Europe. These bikes can be used by anyone that got a “public transport card”, which also gives you access to other official facilities like the library. And please be aware that you are also allowed to bike in pedestrian streets if you bike slowly.

2) The car ban in the city center lead to safer streets, less noise pollution and better air quality. Positive results could already be tracked within a year after the new rules were implemented.

3) Certain people do need assistance to be transported from A to B. To help handicapped and elderly people, the government allowed certain electric taxis to drive in certain areas of the city center. This rule also applies to police, firemen and ambulance drivers.

Conclusion

Oslo will be the first capital that completely bans cars in the city center. Other cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen have an excellent bike infrastructure, but do still allow people to drive (almost) wherever they want.

2 thoughts on “Oslo, Norway – the first car-free capital in the world”

  1. Avatar

    Dear amund,
    Is is nice to see the efforts toward the removal of urban automotive.
    I found it useful to let you know about the CarLina development, designed to allow cities to free themselves from all automotive traffic, including people and freight, over the entire urban area, that is several km around the densely built zone.
    Please read the CarLina page below and let me know: while the development is going on, we would be delighted to ear from urbanists concerned with the creation of car-free cities, what they could look like now we are making them feasible.
    Best Regards,
    Paul

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