June 10, 2019

Downtown Oslo Norway Says No to Vehicular Parking


Take a look at Norway where the capital city Oslo has removed over 700 parking spaces in the downtown and replaced those spaces with benches, bike racks and public spaces.The City has 50 parking spaces left, mainly for disabled persons in vehicles and for deliveries to local businesses.

i have been writing about European cities going for slower streets, and finding that residents are happy with the slower vehicular speeds. The Economist observes that many European cities are going for outright vehicular reduction in their downtowns.  London and Stockholm have congestion charges, and I have written about London’s new ultra low emissions zone.

Paris has tried to limit vehicular use on certain days. But Oslo’s approach of closing off the downtown to private cars, and changing streets to limit traffic flow in one direction is the closest to a “downtown car ban” . While opponents to the ban have complained about limited access to the downtown, there are still vehicles in the downtown, just fewer places to park. Downtown Oslo business owners worried that “fewer cars could mean fewer customers”. While those statistics are not in yet, pedestrian traffic has increased in the downtown by 10%, and the experience in London showed that spending increased by 40% with people that walked, cycled or took public transit to downtown shopping areas.

In Oslo the main commercial areas of the downtown already have a lot of pedestrian foot traffic and are likely to only be positively impacted by private vehicle restrictions. And those restrictions when enacted  in Stockholm Sweden actually assisted private vehicle owners and public transit users as “factors such as shorter travel times and safer roads far outweigh the fees paid by drivers.”

This is the time of conservatism, but local politicians including Vice-Mayor Hanna Marcussen have been working on an incremental approach to the adoption of the downtown vehicular parking ban, speaking directly with business owners and assessing potential impacts of a walkable downtown.  

“Ms Marcussen likens her government’s traffic reforms to Norway’s public-smoking ban, which was enacted in 2004. Many grumbled before the law was passed, but few today would clamour to let people smoke in pubs again.”

This YouTube video outlines Oslo’s approach with their new policies. The comments on the video are worth a quick read as well, as they represent the divergent opinion on this initiative.

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  1. Fifty years ago my father was telling anyone who would listen that we should close the downtown peninsula to all traffic except busses, emergency vehicles, taxis, and through traffic down Georgia to the bridge. We laughed. Dad is 100 now, and is getting the last laugh as we occasionally drive him through the bumper-to-bumper downtown traffic.

    1. Traffic downtown is only bumper-to-bumper thanks to the city who thinks using 50% of a road’s lanes to park vehicles is a smart use of the infrastructure.

      1. Exactly. Get rid of the parking and much of the traffic will go away too. Then we can use all that parking space for something better and make a case for opening a few whole streets for pedestrians.

        1. How will you get from West-Van to Kits, South Van or Richmond ?

          Where’s the rapid transit alternative ?

          Where’s the new triple decker Lionsgate bridge design ?

          1. Jerry, How would you get to Kits, South Van or Richmond if downtown Vancouver was in perpetual and complete gridlock due to a tripling of MV traffic? Expanding the Lions Gate Bridge is nothing but a stoopid idea.

            Bring on the mass transit. We could afford three times as much of it if we didn’t always default to SkyTrain no matter how little it makes sense in some cases.

          2. What makes sense in Vancouver besides a subway for rapid transit? Not LRTs please. That discussion has left the Broadway line debate as it will clog far too much cross traffic. Maybe west of Alma or Blanca as it finally gets less busy if we ever extend the train to UBC.

            What makes sense under Marine Drive from W Van to N Van is a subway (agnostic as to SkyTrain or whatever, as long as it is underground).

            There’s a reason why Surrey voters threw the LRT out.

          3. Why the disguise Thomas?

            Surrey voters aren’t transit experts and expect everybody else to pay for a system that would be absurdly over-built and sprawly. Nobody builds grade separated metro systems into the hinterlands though wide stretches of suburban green space.

          4. Sounds terrible Thomas. An awful place to live. Unlike all those cities in Europe that you use as an example of why we can’t do the right thing here.

  2. The person who is against the move talks about his right to drive.

    I’m not sure of the measures taken elsewhere, but Amsterdam also reduced traffic in the core by dramatically reducing parking. We could do the same here. My understanding is that Vancouver has one of the highest rates of parking spaces per square foot of developed space in all of North America. On-street parking could be reallocated for much more useful things instead and still leave too much parking in private parking facilities.

    Vancouver is also way behind in providing car-free shopping streets. We should at least be experimenting with weekend closures until merchants see for themselves how it works for them. Then add Fridays and then Thursdays until thy’re asking the city to open it to pedestrians full time.

    1. Agreed, we need to do more. Of course, the ‘right to drive’ is not a right, but is a privilege (with restrictions), that can be taken away. As a society, we have the right to say where vehicles can and can’t be operated.

  3. The Gollum-looking journo quacking about taking away people’s freedom to drive and the “war on cars” … There is a one-sided war on the vulnerable. There are no tanks blowing up cars, or snipers shooting motorists. The vulnerable are injured and killed for the comfort of motorists.
    Motorists cry like babies whose rattle is taken away.

  4. If parking fees increased-( slowly)- to a point that there is usually an empty stall on each block . A slow & steady reduction in the number parking stalls would not get the backlash as it did in West Vancouver

  5. In some respects this is old news.

    Consummate professional urban designer and architect Jan Gehl started this trend in the 1960s in Copenhagen, with the blessing of decision makers. Their approach was to remove 3% of parking and road space a year from downtown and devote it to pedestrians and cyclists. They also built an automated metro system with convenient downtown stations.

    At such a small rate of removal, no one really noticed or cared, until they finally shut down six km of streets to create the pedestrian-only Stroget. Business owners were furious, but then their businesses quickly flourished with additional walk-in customers. Having a storefront there now is a gold mine.

    Incrementalism and well-advertised trial runs do have roles to play, and can help defeat the idiotic War on Cars rhetoric. In Copenhagen this approach quietly reclaimed 100,000 m2 (25 acres) over 40 years in the very centre of the city. I wonder if a similar approach would work in Vancouver?

    1. I’d like to see it before I die. How about we open up Robson and Water Streets to pedestrians this summer?

      1. That would certainly be a good start. Downtown Granville Street too. Covered pedestrian streets make sense. I’d opt for glass canopies with open sides over the first few blocks, and follow up with more as they become more popular for outdoor events. Make them iconic, perhaps with design competitions and funded in part with contributions from neighbouring companies.

  6. Beginning in the 1960s, Copenhagen’s approach was to slowly and steadily eliminate parking spaces – about 1%/year. That may mean that 55% have now been lost from the inventory. It seems to have worked.

    Vancouver started on this trek by reducing spaces required for new commercial space in the 1970s, but as in the case of reducing car lanes on the bridges (initially Burrard Street) for cycling, there was push back. Just as in the case of new bike lanes on the Burrard Street Bridge, perhaps it’s time to try again. Vancouver’s made much progress in holding traffic flows to 1970s levels, but that’s still too much.

    The City can match its progress on its success in promoting cycling on a city-wide scale.

  7. Keep in mind European cities were designed before cars existed, whereas most NA cities were not. Easier to remove cars in Europe than here.

    Vancouver, due to geography, and lack of a third crossing, is a bottleneck to get to the northshore, as there are only 2 bridges and one is quite a ways east.

    Also the weird back alley layout will make it tough to get rid of cars.

    1. Vancouver’s street grid was largely laid out in the late 1800s before the automobile. Why would this design make it more difficult than any other jurisdiction to remove motor cars? I would be curious to hear a more detailed explanation of how/why this is believed to be the case.

      1. Because it was designed mainly for SF housing outside of a few arterial roads or downtown. See 1st Ave for example, or E Broadway or E 12th or 76th Ave. All major “highway” lined with SF houses on both sides. That makes no sense.

        UNLIKE Europe which designed cities dense as neither cars nor elevators existing in the early 18th century !

        1. @JerryC (aka Thomas Beyer)

          So leave the roads as they are and build more mixed use denser neighbourhoods. A win-win.

        2. I think I would need a more substantive explanation. Why does the current road grid make it harder to get rid of cars compared to other places?

          1. Because it is far easier to remove cars in a city designed for people with no cars 200+ years ago like most of Europe’s downtowns.

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