Oslo had hoped to be the first major European city to ban cars, but a furious backlash forced the council to think again.

In October 2015, a progressive political alliance gained control of Oslo’s city council and announced its aim to make it a greener capital. The Guardian reports that it committed to slashing greenhouse gas emissions to 95% of 1990 levels by 2030.

Transport accounts for 61% of the city’s CO2 emissions, making it the obvious place to start. The council notes: “The transport sectors will require the most determined efforts moving forward.”

The Norwegian capital already has the world’s highest proportion of electric vehicles, and runs one third of its bus fleet on biogas and biodiesel. So the city looked to private cars, which produce almost 40% of Oslo's transport emissions.

Initially it proposed a car-free zone: a 1.7km sq area in the centre of the city. The vast majority of the 1,000 residents in this area – almost 90% – do not own a car. Just 7% commute by car, compared with 64% who travel to work on public transport, 22% on foot and 7% by bike.

Oslo’s proposed car-free zone
Oslo’s proposed car-free zone
Image: Oslo Kommune

Residents, however, felt bullied while businesses feared the plans would create a “dead town”. Beathe Radby Schieldrop, communications manager for the city’s trade association, the Oslo Handelsstands Forening (OHF), told the Guardian: “It’s too much and too soon. Shop owners and visitors need time to adapt.”

The council took note and has settled instead on getting rid of all of the 650 on-street parking spaces in the centre. It will then extend pedestrian networks, close several streets to private traffic, and build 40 miles of bike lanes.

The council has not completely abandoned the idea of banning cars. The plan is to see if the removal of parking and restrictions on driving is sufficient to achieve its aim of having “the fewest possible vehicles”.

Lan Marie Nguyen Berg, a Green party politician and the city’s vice mayor for environment and transport, told the Guardian: “If it’s necessary to get to our goal, then we’ll create a car ban. But, until 2019, we’ll see if we can do it through more gentle and natural initiatives.”