The setting-up of a car-less city center in Oslo: a genuine automotive restriction policy, or a mere redevelopment of the public space following the removal of motorized traffic?

By Grégoire Tortosa

The 2015 political turnover at the municipality of Oslo brought to power a Labour-Socialist-Green coalition which, since then, has strived to make Oslo’s city centre the largest pedestrian space in Europe. Since 2018, the municipality has rolled out its “car-free urban life” project which aims at progressively chasing automobiles out of the city centre and giving a new purpose to the regained public spaces. While this endeavour is presented by its initiators as an ambitious automotive-restricting measure, and a shift from the mobility policies of the previous years, this article argues that it is, in fact, the continuation and last step of a longer process, launched in the 1990’s: the removal of ground road networks, aimed at decongesting automotive traffic as well as reopening the city-centre onto its seafront. Thus, Oslo offers a very peculiar urban situation: the search for an increased road capacity in the 1990’s allowed, 25 years later, the city centre being exclusively pedestrian and freed from automotive traffic. While the automotive-centred approach to mobility—specific to the modern city paradigm—and the omnimodal approach—specific to the sustainable city paradigm- are elsewhere opposed and mutually exclusive, they seem to form, in Oslo, a continuum, the former having paved the way to the latter. Indeed, the ground lost by automotive mobility in surface, at the benefits of alternative transports, was preceded and largely offset by the tunnelling of an underground road network which facilitates automotive traffic.

  • Oslo
  • Norway
  • urban mobility
  • urban planning public policies
  • car restriction
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