Norway’s capital Oslo has for many years proclaimed its desire to tackle climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Left and right administrations alike have trumpeted their green credentials, regularly competing for the European Green Capital Award – and finally winning it for the year 2019.
The problem is, the majority of the city’s emissions emanate from the transport sector, and particularly from private cars. Road transport contributes 55% of overall emissions. Despite ambitious reduction targets, a failure to implement effective policies has meant a 15% increase between 1990 and 2016. But things are going to change:
After 8 years in office, Oslo’s conservative mayor lost the 2015 elections to a coalition of Greens and Left Socialists. This signalled a radical change in one key area of transport policy. Though the previous administration had talked a lot about green transport policies, there was a reluctance to make space for planned cycleways by removing car parking spaces. This all changed with the election of Raymond Johansen as Governing Mayor, and the Green Lan Marie Berg as Transport Commissioner. Both old and new administrations wanted to shift from car use to public transit and bicycle. But under the conservatives little was actually done before 2015 – just 3 kms of cycleways built, for example. Above all, their efforts were hampered by a perceived “lack of space” for new cycling infrastructure. But this all changed when the new régime declared one significant shift in priorities. Car parking space would no longer be sacrosanct.
The new administration immediately revised its emissions reduction targets to 50% by 2020, and carbon neutral by 2030. To achieve this, the council has introduced a Climate Budget, which will operate alongside the traditional financial budget, tracking ongoing carbon emissions. “The Climate Budget, a first of its kind plan, shows estimated emission reductions, its financing and each agency in charge.” 42 measures have been identified that directly affect the city’s emissions. Transport is central.
Initially, the administration presented a plan to ban private cars altogether from a city centre area of 1.7km², and build 60kms of new cycleways. But following opposition, primarily from local businesses, this was amended to the removal of all 650 public on-street parking spaces in the area, as well as some parking in surrounding areas deemed to be “in conflict with bike development”. Car parks in and around the central zone will stay, but many other on-street parking spaces will be freed up for alternative uses.
The programme is relatively short-term – the removal of parking spaces should be completed by the end of 2017. It is already well underway, with a number of streets undergoing the clearing of parking spaces, to be replaced by pedestrianised areas or cycleways.
Much of Oslo’s focus is on converting car use to bicycle use. Modal share is currently 8.3%, dropping to 3% in winter. But there is a lot of effort being put into building bike paths, and ensuring they are snow-free in winter. In areas around the city centre, car parking spaces are being reduced to make way for these bike paths. For example, in the district of Grünerløkka, around 185 parking spots are being removed. The aim is to reach Bremen levels of cycling – 25% – and removing on-street parking is seen as a key tool for creating space for safe cycling.
Bicycles have also replaced delivery vans in a new pilot project: started in June, a container in the Aker Brygge neighbourhood (bottom left on map) functions as a micro-terminal for freight transport. Goods are dropped at the terminal, and distributed throughout the city centre by 3 electric cargo bikes. Previously DHL used 3 vans.
We should know by 2019 whether Oslo’s strategy proves to be more successful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions than that of the previous Conservative administration.
Oslo wants to reach Bremen’s cycling modal share, 25% . In fact, through the grapevine we hear that Bremen’s cycling modal share has now declined to 23%, according to a study from the TU Dresden.
Be careful Bremen: If our transport politicians don’t wake up soon, they won’t hit their climate targets and a “Verkehrswende” will remain a distant dream.
More information about the “Oslo-Strategy” here: