The War on Cars, Norwegian Edition

Oslo is still planning to go car-free by 2019, thanks to an ambitious network of bike lanes. But old habits do die hard.

Øyvind Aas didn’t look like one of Scandinavia’s top bike champions. But then again, neither does Oslo.

Wrapped in thick scarf and trench coat, the lanky Aas greeted me at the Norwegian capital’s train station astride a huge cargo trike, not a sleek racing machine. A former professional mountain biker, now the chief communications officer at the Norwegian Cyclists’ Association, Aas and his wife purchased the rig through a city subsidy program, he explained. I rented a ride from a nearby bike-share station that might have been nearly as heavy as his.

The plan for that grey and windy October day was to survey the recent growth of the city’s bike infrastructure. As it turned out, Aas had good reason to take it slow—Oslo is still adapting to the two-wheeled kind. But its current leaders intend on making the city one of the world’s great cycling destinations.

They’ve got to. Since the mid-2000s, Oslo has grown faster than nearly any other city in Europe, thanks to a rising birth rate, longer life expectancies, and record immigration—Norway has dodged Europe’s larger financial crisis. Cruising near the Oslo harbor, Aas pointed out the telltale signs of this boom: waterfront apartment towers and commercial developments that now loom where industry once stood. “The trams are totally at capacity,” Aas shouted from up ahead, and traffic congestion is worsening year over year. To accommodate the growth, and slash greenhouse gas emissions, the city is shifting ground to make space for bikes. Specifically, it hopes to double the bike’s mode share to at least 16 percent of all trips by 2025.