Oslo just banned 350,000 cars

Cars are no longer welcome in downtown Oslo.

Oslo plans to ban all cars from its city center by 2019, Reuters reports, and make a major boost in bike lanes.

The permanent ban will affect the 350,000 or so car owners in the Norwegian capital.

Oslo’s car ban is the largest of its kind, says Paul Steely White, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, an organisation that helped install NYC’s Citi Bikes and advocates for car-free cities.

“The fact that Oslo is moving forward so rapidly is encouraging, and I think it will be inspiring if they are successful,” he tells Tech Insider.

The car ban in Oslo will reduce pollution and make it a safer city for those on foot. The Oslo city council will build more than 35 miles of bike lanes by 2019 and invest heavily in public transport.

“We want to make it better for pedestrians, cyclists. It will be better for shops and everyone,” Lan Marie Nguyen Berg, lead negotiator for the Green Party in Oslo, tells Reuters.

Other cities in Europe have worked toward similar objectives.

Paris banned cars from its major landmarks, like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral, last month. If commuters in Milan leave their cars at home, the government will reward them with public transit vouchers. Copenhagen introduced pedestrian zones in the 1960s, and car-free zones slowly followed over the last half-century.

Oslo’s auto ban may mark a shift in our thinking around cars, White says. When cities move away from private transportation, they can rededicate that space to public parks, footpaths, and cafés.

The problems created by cars are many.

An estimated 150 million Americans — nearly half the country — live in areas that do not meet federal air quality standards. Cars produce the majority of this carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide pollution.

Traffic in London today moves slower than the average cyclist, and drivers in the U.K. waste 106 days of their life searching for parking spots. Commuters in L.A. spend 90 hours per year in traffic.

Pollution aside, cars are actually the most inefficient way to move through a city. Car bans could solve that.

“Having cars inside a dense city center is the equivalent of putting a large dinner table in a small studio apartment,” White says. “In the space it takes to park a car, you can park 15 bicycles.”

A symbol of romanticized financial freedom, cars hold a special place in American hearts. But that’s also quickly changing. Only 44% of teens race to obtain a drivers licence their first eligible year, according to a report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Just over half applied for a licence before turning 18.

White predicts large car-free zones will eventually happen in the U.S. “Because Oslo is moving forward on such an aggressive time table, the world will be watching and seeing how it goes,” he says. To follow Oslo’s lead, White says other cities need to provide more bike lanes, footpaths, buses, and subways.

Options like these will improve everyone’s commute.

“What a human and wonderful thing: to be able to walk down the street and feel like you’re a first-class citizen,” says White.

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