Oslo’s innovative approach to cars
The issue of inner city pollution has been gaining prominence across the world in recent years. Research has been produced which condemns diesel vehicles and highlights the general effect of mass traffic pollution on human health, for instance we now know that children who grow up in cites have a lung capacity 10% smaller than those who grow up in the countryside.
Major cities around the world have understandably been keen to combat this, with Oslo at the forefront of worldwide urban efforts to reduce pollution.
October 2015 saw the election of an alliance of progressive politicians to the Oslo city council which soon set about improving the city for all. Measures included the creation of innovative district heating systems for residents, divesting the city from investments in coal power, and committing the city to a huge reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.
Targeting a reduction in carbon emissions tends to run into the same problems wherever you are in the world. One of the main issues is the combination of increasing urban populations and transport – more people moving into a city means more private vehicles. With the population of Oslo predicted to grow 30% by 2040 and the city already seeing 61% of its carbon emissions come from transport, it is no surprise that the new council decided to take drastic measures.
Cars were simply banned in the city centre. Oslo became the first major European city to make this change and have a complete no car zone.
The radical plans were welcomed by many but there was significant opposition from conservative groups which complained of being “bullied” and of the no-car zone being a type of “Berlin Wall”. Obviously these criticisms were overblown – as criticism of environmental measures often is – but the opposition forced the city council to change tack slightly.
Rather than banning cars outright, the goal would be to create a city centre which contained “the fewest number of cars possible,” which would create a healthier environment whilst still allowing deliveries to shops and markets.
New measures included allowing cars but banning parking spaces, restrictions on driving through the city centre to reach other destinations, and the expansion of pedestrian and bicycle networks.
Whilst there is still opposition from some car owners who happen to live in the affected no-car area, the city council has worked hard to incentivise people away from cars. Big funds have been set up to help people purchase electric bikes and larger cargo bicycles in addition to the aforementioned expansion of bicycle networks. Other smaller changes such as a greater effort to clear bike lanes of snow in the winter are also helping residents adapt.
What is clear is that the total removal of cars is never going to be a policy without critics, but if the people in charge can commit to it and come up with a proper plan then it is possible to adapt. The traditional petrol or diesel car is, step by step, looking more and more like the past. It is likely that cities such as Oslo will become the standard rather than the exception in the future as the damage done to cities by pollution becomes more and more obvious.