Last updated: 01:00 AM ET, Fri October 23 2015

Downtown Oslo is Looking to Go Completely Carless

Destination & Tourism | Josh Lew | October 23, 2015

Downtown Oslo is Looking to Go Completely Carless

Norway is known for its forward-thinking policies. For example, the capital, Oslo, created such a good recycling program that it actually ran out of trash to burn in its energy-producing incinerators. Now, there is a new law that is in the final stages of the approval process. If it passes, the streets of Downtown Oslo will look a lot different in the future. That is because this new statute will ban all cars from the center of the city by 2019.

Yes, this will affect tourists who are planning to rent a car while on their Scandinavian adventure. More importantly, it will change the habits of the 90,000 residents who commute to work Downtown every day.

No cars, but lots of other transportation options

Luckily, Oslo has very good public transportation. The Metro system is useful, and it is supplemented by a widespread tram and bus network. Other steps are also on the agenda for appeasing people who might be upset by the ban. The already-bicycle-friendly city will add more lanes and paths in the near future. There may even be a program to help subsidize the purchase of electric bikes.

Pedaling through the streets of Oslo on a frigid January day might not sound like the most pleasant thing to do, but banning vehicle traffic in downtown areas is not unheard of, especially in Europe. Madrid, for example, has converted some of its busiest roads into pedestrian promenades. Like Oslo, the Spanish city has a very good Metro and a top-notch overall public transportation infrastructure.

As many recent Madrid visitors will tell you, the car-less policy can be a good thing. It is easier to cross streets and navigate without having to deal with the inherent dangers of walking in an area dominated by cars.

Potential drawbacks and positives

At the same time, Oslo’s completely-car-free scheme will mean that newby tourists won’t have the luxury of just hailing a cab if they feel lost and want to return to their hotel for a “restart.” Luckily, almost everyone in the Norwegian capital is fluent in English, so asking directions is as easy as standing on the corner and saying, “Help, I’m lost.”   

Also, if you never bothered to get an international driver’s license, you won’t have to feel bad about not being able to rent a car.  

What about the weather?

The car-less policy isn’t just meant to make things nicer for pedestrians. It is part of a larger effort to make Norway, which is already one of the greenest countries in Europe, even more environmentally friendly. Aside from the hailing-a-taxi thing, the only issue that most tourists will be worried about is the weather. If you prefer the tropics, you will probably find Oslo chilly at any time of year. Average highs only hit about 70 (21 C) in the summer. Winter temps are akin to what you’d experience in other major northern cities (Chicago, Boston, Berlin). Spending time outside during the coldest season is bearable if you are used to it.

Most tourists who come to Oslo in a few years’ time will get to witness the car-free streets. Many of the city’s best attractions, restaurants and nightlife spots are Downtown, so chances are a few trips to the center are going to be on every Oslo visitor’s itinerary. 

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