Oslo Will Be World’s First Car-Free Capital

“Dedicated lanes for pedestrians and cyclists show respect for human dignity, for everybody, not just for those who have cars who normally think they are the important ones.” – Enrique Peñalosa

It looks like Oslo will win the race to be the world’s first “car free” capital city.  Officials in the Norwegian capital announced plans earlier this week to permanently ban cars from the city center by 2019.  The move is being driven by a desire to slash greenhouse gas emissions to 50% of the 1990 benchmark.

Karl Johans Street, Oslo. Norwegians already are comfortable getting around without cars. By Daniel78 (Nikon Coolpix 995) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Karl Johans Street, Oslo. Norwegians already are comfortable getting around without cars. By Daniel78 CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

Oslo is one of many global cities moving towards limiting automobiles in the center city.  Some smaller European cities such as Dubrovnik (Croatia). Malmö (Sweden) and Zurich (Switzerland) already have.  Others, such as Paris, are experimenting with car free days as a way of testing the political winds. Even in the United States, the popularity of open streets events suggest that it may be time for some cities to consider similar restrictions.

Rådhusgata, a typical shared street in Oslo. By Photo: Chris Nyborg, June 2005 (Self) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Rådhusgata, a typical Oslo “shared” street with wide pedestrian walkways and low speed limits that make cycling easy. Photo: Chris Nyborg, June 2005 (Self) CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Oslo’s move is largely symbolic.  The area affected is home to only 1,000 residents in a city of over 600,000.  Even so, much of the city’s retail shopping is concentrated here, and thousands more people pour into the district each day…most by transit, bicycle and on foot.  Banning cars will codify what is largely already occurring, to a degree, and offer a higher level of safety to both cyclists and pedestrians.  More importantly, it sends a message of encouragement to other cities that might be interested in implementing their own car-free plans.

To help citizens adjust, Oslo officials plan to make additional investments in protected bike lanes and transit and offer financial incentives towards the purchase of eBikes.

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