A world without automobile traffic seems nearly unimaginable in universes not yet overtaken by some sort of apocalypse, but Norway’s capital city, Oslo, is seeking to change that within the next four years. Earlier this season, Paris set a temporary precedent by banning cars from its city center for a day, but the new Leftist coalition in place in Oslo is determined to make the change permanent for Norwegians. As a result of the current plan, some 350,000 personal transportation vehicles will no longer be allowed inside Oslo’s center.
The council’s reasoning is simple: reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Oslo officials are aiming to reduce their carbon footprint by a huge margin (50 percent of what it used to be in 1990) within an impressively small time frame of five years. They also want to slash car traffic citywide to 20 percent. It’s an incredibly ambitious plan, and concerns are already beginning to crop up, especially from merchants who fear loss of profit because their locations fall within the no-car zone. And what about those who require vehicles to move throughout the city? Handicapped vehicles will still be permitted, as will buses and transportation of store inventory. The focus is on improving Oslo’s sustainability without harming its citizens in any way.
Still, the magnitude of the current effort and its far-reaching goals is enormous. To replace personal vehicles, Oslo’s city council will be developing massive public transportation plans, more bicycle lanes and pedestrian paths, and incentives for purchasing things like electric bikes and cars. These incentives won’t all be good, however; drivers will see more driving penalties implemented, higher parking fees, and restricted areas for gas-powered vehicles. Already, over half the households in Oslo do not own cars, so the capital is uniquely poised to enact a ban of this type and scope. Other cities in Europe have experimented with vehicle bans, but Oslo is the first to take such a concrete step in this direction. The city has battled pollution and emissions problems previously, which has garnered a lot of support for a car-free initiative.
Not yet. Urban planner Anthony Townsend doubts American cities are prepared to make that sort of change. “We’re too tied to private automobiles as a way of getting around cities.” Regarding Oslo’s decision, Townsend explained, “They’ve been preparing for a long time … they believe it’s going to pay off.”