In 2015, the newly elected city government of Oslo, Norway, announced its intention to make the downtown car-free by 2019. I immediately put it on my list of places to check out for Streetfilms. Last fall I made the trip, not knowing exactly what I’d find.
There are a number of reasons Oslo is looking to shift away from driving and get cars out of downtown. It is one of the fastest growing cities in Europe, and leaders see more efficient streets and transportation as essential to managing this growth. But the biggest factor is that air quality in Oslo and many places in Norway is deteriorating. In winter, especially, air pollution from diesel vehicles can reach dangerous levels and keep vulnerable children and seniors restricted indoors.
Oslo already has car-free blocks and car-light pedestrian zones that are full of people even late at night. And I knew it was a good sign when I stepped off the bus from the airport and immediately stumbled upon construction of a new rail line. But to make such a large area car-free entails going above and beyond a few projects here and there — it takes a comprehensive strategy.
So Oslo is working toward its goal on many fronts. The city has been aggressively removing car parking, for instance, and by the end of 2017, expects to no longer have any on-street parking in the city core. Off-street parking is also being addressed — all new developments are required to be car-free.
Ruter, the local transportation authority, plans to absorb all travel growth with buses, trains, and trams in addition to shifting some current car trips to transit. Car-share services are beginning to proliferate as more people go without a personal motor vehicle. Oh, and there’s this nifty plan to help people pay for electric-assist cargo bikes!
Bike lanes are getting built or upgraded throughout the city. You won’t find ample, Copenhagen-style protected bike lanes yet, but the on-going removal of car parking is clearing space for many wide, red curbside bike lanes. Despite the lack of true protection they feel safe, and unlike in the U.S., you will not find cars parking in them. Over four days, I probably could count the number of cars I saw blocking a bike lane on one hand.
The city’s bike-share, Oslo Bysykkel, has recently been completely overhauled with more stations, better bicycles, and a more convenient user interface. You can unlock your bike by smart phone as you approach the station, just take it and go.
Will Oslo’s city center go completely car-free by 2019? Momentum is certainly on the city’s side. So sit back and take in these scenes of a city making ambitious changes to its streets, as well as interviews with public figures like Oslo Mayor Marianne Borgen, who discusses why reducing the footprint of cars is so important to the future of her city. I hope you enjoy watching this Streetfilm — I think it carries important implications for other cities around the world.