In its plans to make the city centre 'car free', Norway’s capital has replaced nearly all street-side parking spots with bike lanes and sidewalks. The result? Last year, the city recorded zero pedestrian or cyclist deaths, bringing the capital in line with its “Vision Zero”, an endeavour to eliminate all fatalities on public roads.
For comparison, preliminary figures in London show 73 pedestrian and six cyclist fatalities in 2019; New York recorded 218 total traffic fatalities, including 121 pedestrian and 28 cyclist deaths.
As part of its Vision Zero, Oslo's removal of more than a thousand on-street parking spots has persuaded its citizens to opt for its affordable and flexible public transport network or use newly added bike lanes and walking trails. In addition, the city officials also drastically lowered speed limits inside and outside downtown areas and established “heart zones,” where vehicles are not permitted to pick up or drop off children around primary schools.
“The car became the owner of our cities, but we’re resetting the order again,” says Rune Gjøs, a director at Oslo’s Department of Mobility.
Despite its success, Oslo’s initiatives have faced opposition from some people who don’t know life without private cars. There’s also a misconception that pedestrianisation hurts local trade, because the data has always been “patchy,” says Harriet Tregoning, director of the New Urban Mobility Alliance, a global group helping cities to integrate more sustainable transportation.
But Oslo’s successful case of giving the city centre back to pedestrians contributes to a growing body of evidence that pedestrianisation not only saves lives but also benefits local business - after reducing cars, the number of shoppers in the center increased by 10 percent.
The disruption caused by Covid-19 has catalysed pedestrianisation projects elsewhere. Cologne in Germany and Calgary in Canada are among cities that have closed off large areas to through-traffic to allow more room for pedestrians to social distance. City officials in Bogota, Colombia have extended its car-free Sundays to the whole week, and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has banned private cars from the iconic Rue de Rivoli. Hidalgo has said that returning to a Paris dominated by cars after lockdown ends is “out of the question”. Milan will pedestrianise 35 km of roads indefinitely.
Norway's A-ha Moment: Paving the way for the world's highest per capita electric vehicle ownership. In 1995, Morten Harket (the lead singer of the 1980s band A-ha) and the head of Bellona, the Norwegian environmental group, got into a converted electric Fiat they had imported and set off on what can only be described as an anarchic road trip.