Oslo – Car Free in 5 Years?

A couple of days ago Oslo, the Norwegian capital, became the first major city to pledge to be completely car free. Oslo plans to ban cars from it’s city center within four years, and to only allow zero-emission cars to drive in its streets. This proposed plan to remove vehicles from its streets is part of Oslo’s greater effort to cut its carbon emission to 50% of 1990 levels. The program specifically aims to remove private vehicles from its city center, which is home to only 1,000 residents but has a population of 90,000 during regular working days.

Traffic is urban areas is not only an environmental concern for many people, but also constitutes a substantial portion of idle time for many commuters. The average commuter in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, which has the worst traffic congestion in the United States, spends an estimated 90 hours per year stuck in traffic. 90 hours is approximately 4 days, meaning that each year the average Los Angeles loses an additional four days on the highway. In the city of London, the most congested area of the United Kingdom, inner city traffic often moves slower than an average cyclist, meaning that you are more likely to reach your destination faster if you bike in London rather than drive. Furthermore, a recent study estimates that drivers in the U.K. spend an can spend up to 106 days of their lives just looking for parking spots. As discussed in Transportation: Land of Cleantech Opportunity, parking drives substantial costs of actually driving a car and even real estate prices in some cases. When accounting for many of the hidden costs in owning and using a car, driving can cost up $1.37/mile according to transportation experts.

Even though Oslo is the first major city to pledge to an all-encompassing car ban, other cities have already initiated programs to reduce car traffic in their most congested areas:

  • Madrid, the Spanish capital, has already banned traffic from many of its city center streets and is planning to expand the car-free zone this year to an area larger than a square mile. Madrid is also planning to redesign some of¬†its busiest streets to make them more walking friendly, as opposed to driving friendly.
  • Milan, the metropolis in northern Italy,¬†developed a different approach to reducing the number of cars in its streets: Commuters who leave their cars at home are granted free public transit vouchers. The city is tracking the cars with GPS devices on the dashboard, and each time the car remains at home, the commuter receives a ticket for the value of their trip on a bus or train.
  • Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital is often considered the biking capital of world because the city has already built over 200 miles of bike lanes. Furthermore, Copenhagen is considering to build new bike highways that would allow suburban commuters to get to work using their bicycles. Copenhagen already has one lowest rates of car ownership in Europe and appears to want to continue that trend.