This past week, the City of Oslo announced a plan to ban all cars from its city center by 2019. Only weeks after city elections shifted control to a progressive coalition, the newly-formed city council proposed the ban as part of a larger plan to reduce Oslo’s carbon emissions by half before 2020 and by 95% before 2030, in comparison with its 1990 levels. In order to reach this target, the city plans to invest in alternative means of transportation. For public transportation, the city has proposed to build an underground subway line. The city also plans to switch from buses to trams. For bicyclists and pedestrians, the city will build more than forty miles of bike and pedestrian trails. In the meantime, the city will impose more costs and restrictions on drivers. These include: restricting lanes for public transit and low-emission cars, removing parking spots that interfere with bike lines and increasing the cost of parking within the city.

While many environmentalists and urban planners have applauded the plan, business owners within the city have expressed concern that their businesses may be adversely affected. These business owners point out that a number of the city’s shopping centers are within the proposed zone. In response to these concerns, city officials have argued that this plan will help all of those within the city. They have also stated that there will be accommodations made for cars required by the disabled and vehicles that bring goods to businesses within the city. The city will also continue to consult and study the attempts of other cities to limit car pollution.

While Oslo plans to be the first European city to comprehensively ban cars from its city center, other cities have taken steps to battle the pollution within. For example, in Paris, the mayor instituted a car-free day earlier this year. In London, the city has imposed higher fees for cars entering the during peak hours. And, in Madrid, only those within a certain zone can drive within the city.

Will American cities follow this path? At this time, it seems unlikely. Some predict that car-free zones will eventually come to the U.S. However, those wishing to implement plans similar to Oslo here must understand that Oslo is unique for a number of reasons. One, the plan has support across the political spectrum within the city. Second, the city has developed according to development plans ensured to make sure that the many of city’s businesses and services were accessible without cars. Third, of the 650,000 people who live in Oslo, less than half of the households own a car. Last, the government has actively supported to transition to electric cars. Thus, while some American cities have begun to tackle these environmental issues, the American connection to cars is much stronger than in Norway, making it hard to imagine much widespread support for comprehensive city car bans. Thus, it will be interesting to keep track on how American cities proceed to tackle city pollution and other quality of life issues in the future as more people move into cities.

 

Mallik Yamusah

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