The streets of Oslo are likely the safest among all major capitals of the world. For instance, last year not one pedestrian or cyclist died in the city’s traffic. In fact, just a single person died in Oslo’s traffic at all, an adult male whose vehicle struck a fence. This level of road safety is unheard of for a city which numbers more than 673,000 residents.
Oslo wasn’t always so safe to live in. In 1975, 41 people died on the Norwegian capital’s roadways. But instead of rising (as is the case in many parts of the world), that number has slowly dropped. So, what happened?
Especially during the last five years, the city’s authorities enacted a series of dramatic steps meant to improve road safety.
It all started with replacing almost all of the city’s on-street parking with bike lanes and sidewalks in 2017. This led to a dramatic increase in the number of trips taken by bike in the city. For instance, in 2017, the proportion of trips taken by bike in Oslo was 8.3%, whereas today it is 16%. The city is aiming for 25% by 2025. Having people ride more bikes is not only healthier and more eco-friendly — but it’s also safer.
In addition, as of 2019, all vehicles have been banned from the city’s center, a move that had been planned ever since 2015.
Roadways around Oslo’s schools have been given special attention with the introduction of so-called “heart zones”, where streets are specially designed to protect school children and students walking and biking in the area. Some streets are even closed to cars during school hours.
“The more you separate the different road groups, the less the risk of serious traffic accidents and then we see that the speed limit has been lower on several roads,” said Christoffer Solstad Steen, a spokesman for a Norwegian traffic organization Trygg Trafikk.
Authorities also sought to tame aggressive drivers in other neighborhoods by drastically lowering speed limits inside and outside downtown areas.
Outside Oslo, the country is also making remarkable progress. No child under 15 died in roadways crashes anywhere in Norway during 2019. The entire Scandinavian nation experienced only 110 traffic deaths last year out of a population of 5.3 million, marking a fourfold decline since 1985.
Driver behavior is also a significant aspect — and Norwegians are one of the safer drivers out there.
“This is no cushion. Every serious accident is one too many,” Ingrid Dahl Hovland, the country’s top road administrator, told Aftenposten. “The fight against traffic death and serious injuries in traffic continues with unabated strength.”
All of these measures are part of the Oslo’s pledge to the Vision Zero strategy, whose goal is to eliminate not just all pedestrian and cyclist deaths but also all serious injuries. About 50 U.S. cities have also joined the Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic deaths, but these lagging far behind European cities.
But there is some progress. Curbed reports that New York City banned cars on the city’s 14th Street busway and will soon charge a fee for cars to enter Manhattan by the end of 2020.
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.