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Watch Oslo transform into a car-free utopia

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In just two years, the city has replaced most on-street parking with bike lanes and sidewalks

A pedestrian-only street in downtown Oslo.

In 2015, Oslo made international headlines by declaring that its city center would go completely car-free by 2019, making it one of a handful of cities banning cars to reduce pollution and improve quality of life. Here’s a look at how the city has already made great strides towards that goal in just two years’ time.

Oslo is implementing ideas that have proved successful in other car-free cities, like charging congestion pricing for cars, and creating a pedestrian-only zone downtown.

But Oslo’s most dramatic transformation can be seen in the radical redesign of its streets. By end of the year, the city will eliminate all on-street parking to make more room for walkers and bikers. The film includes surreal images of street crews paving over parking spaces to create smooth, wide multimodal boulevards.

The film was made by Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson, who visited Oslo last August to witness the quickly changing city himself. I asked him which ideas he saw in Oslo that could most easily translate to U.S. cities, and he agreed the concept of eliminating parking was most resonant.

“We just need to stop providing car parking everywhere, stop requiring it of builders and start removing on-street parking in congested city centers,” he says. “More parking always means more cars. We see that Oslo is building entire new residential towers that are expected to be car-free. Why places like Manhattan are still building any parking in new construction is crazy.”

Eckerson recently made another excellent film about Vancouver’s efforts to get residents out of their cars, so I also wanted to know how Oslo compared to this closer-to-home example of car-free life. “When it comes to mass transit, I see the most similarities,” he says. “Both cities are continuing to build new lines and trying what they can to make the riding experience faster and comfortable.”

An Oslo street before and after the redesign
City of Oslo

As Oslo’s mayor notes in the film, Oslo’s plan is especially ambitious because Norway is one of the fastest-growing cities in Europe, adding 10,000 new residents per year. So many of Oslo’s new residents are coming to the city from other places, expecting to use a car, and the city has to change their mind.

The key, says Eckerson, is offering options. “Vancouver and Oslo both have excellent modality,” he says. “Walking, biking, bus, train, car share, taxis, bike share, and more are all there for you to choose which way you want to get around.”