Oslo decided to be the first European city to ban cars in its centre, businesses protested. So the city did next best thing: it banned parking

When a progressive political alliance took power over Oslo’s city council in October 2015, they had made one of their first priorities a greener and more liveable environment in the city. With an almost 30% increase in population expected by 2040, the Norwegian capital was worried about its carbon footprint. 

It wasted no time, selling off its coal investments, creating a renewable district heating system and firmly committing to slashing greenhouse gas emissions (to 95% of 1990 levels) by 2030.

The biggest bugbear, however, was transport, which accounts for 61% of the city’s CO2emissions – a full 39% of it coming from private cars.

Yet the council presided over a city that already boasted the world’s highest proportion of electric vehicles, and ran a third of its bus fleet on fossil fuel alternatives. What more could be done? 

Simple: ban cars. If pulled off, the plan would see Oslo become the first major European city to have a permanent, complete no-car-zone, racing ahead of a long list of cities seeking to do the same.

The proposed car-free zone seemed like a good place to start. It focused on Ring 1, the innermost ring road of Oslo’s three motorways, a 1.7km sq area that is home to around 1,000 people of whom 88.1% do not own a car. Just 7% commute by car, with 64% doing so on public transport, 22% on foot and 7% by bike. Banning all cars – petrol, diesel, hybrid or electric – seemed like an easy win.

“The city becomes more enjoyable and more accessible without car traffic,” read the coalition’s declaration in October 2015.

There was just one problem. 

“A Berlin Wall against motorists,” declared one conservative party politician. “Car owners feel ‘bullied’ in Oslo”, blared an English-language news site. 

The biggest backlash, however, came from the city’s trade association, the Oslo Handelsstands Forening (OHF). It said it feared the plans would create a “dead town”, and a “poorer city [with] less life”.

“Many speciality shops depend on people coming from far away, who may not bother to come if they have a complex travel route,” says OHF communications manager Beathe Radby Schieldrop, explaining their opposition. “People tend to shop where it is easy to shop.”

The plan was simply too revolutionary, the group maintains. “It’s too much and too soon,” Schieldrop says. “Shop owners and visitors need time to adapt.”