In Norway, Oslo leaders are creating a ‘car-free city center.’ Could Boston be next?

(Energy News Network, 15 Jul 2019) “When you have limited space, who should that be for? We want to prioritize people over cars,” an Oslo official said.

Rush hour in the center of Oslo, Norway, is not the snarl of gridlocked cars and frustrated drivers that marks the end of the workday in many cities. At public transit stops, digital signs announce expected arrivals and, at the appointed time, the tram or bus rolls up. A handful of vehicles breeze through intersections, while hundreds of commuters glide by on bicycles or motorized scooters. 

Though there are many reasons for Oslo’s relatively stress-free commuting hours, one of the major factors is the progressive city government’s commitment to creating what it calls a “car-free city center.” It’s a plan intended to make the city more welcoming, more connected, and, ultimately, more green. 

“In the big picture, it’s all about giving the streets back to the people,” said Hanna Marcussen, Oslo’s vice mayor for urban development. “It’s about livability.”

Across the Atlantic, Boston — a city notorious for its traffic congestion — is also trying to figure out ways to make the streets more people-friendly and lower-carbon. The city has declared a goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050 and has made slashing transportation emissions an essential part of that plan. As Boston tries to implement changes, Oslo’s experience shifting away from private vehicle use can offer valuable lessons in the importance of persistence, pilot projects, and communication. 

“We can improve our quality of life if we do a better job of sharing our roads, and it’s also good for our carbon footprint if we are less reliant on cars,” said Boston City Councilor Kim Janey, who visited Oslo for an urban design and sustainability conference in May. “We are going in the right direction, but much more work needs to be done.”

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Energy News Network, 15 Jul 2019: In Norway, Oslo leaders are creating a ‘car-free city center.’ Could Boston be next?