Oslo Just Proved Vision Zero Is Possible

Oslo, Norway, has reached a remarkable milestone in its pursuit of Vision Zero: The city witnessed zero cyclist and pedestrian fatalities in 2019.


By Jessica Coulon |

Oslo, Norway, has reached a remarkable milestone in its pursuit of Vision Zero: The city witnessed zero cyclist and pedestrian fatalities in 2019. Conceived in 1997 by Sweden’s parliament, Vision Zero introduced the concept, and ethical necessity, of achieving zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries.

“It can never be ethically acceptable that people are killed or seriously injured while moving within the road transport system,” the Vision Zero principle asserts.

Technically, Oslo has not fully achieved Vision Zero, though this is by far the closest it—and perhaps any modern-day city—has ever come to doing so. There was a single traffic fatality in Oslo last year, which involved someone driving into a fence.

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Oslo’s Vision Zero success has not occurred overnight. According to the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, which announced the city’s significant Vision Zero progress, there were 41 traffic deaths in 1975, before traffic safety measures such as lower speed limits became more commonplace. A decade later, the number of traffic deaths dropped to 27. Just five years after that, in 1990, the number dropped to 18.

Previous to 2019, Oslo’s least deadliest year for traffic accidents had been 2005, with 3 fatalities.

Meanwhile, the goal of Vision Zero remains elusive across cities in the United States—which experienced the highest number of cyclist fatalities in 30 years in 2018. New York City, in particular, is struggling to improve cyclist and pedestrian safety; last year, the city saw 29 cyclist fatalities, compared to 10 the year prior.

 

So, what can we learn from Oslo? How has Oslo been able to come so close to what has previously been a seemingly unattainable goal?

The article from Aftenposten outlines some of the likely explanations. The biggest (and most promising) takeaway, though, is that the city hasn’t really implemented any groundbreaking solutions.

The most probable reasons for the city’s drastic improvement in traffic safety include more bike infrastructure, lower speed limits, fewer vehicles on the road overall, less traffic in residential areas, speed bumps, vehicles equipped with better technology, and better roads in general.

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The city has also created car-free “heart zones” around every primary school, in an effort to focus on child safety in particular. (No children, up to 15 years of age, were killed in traffic accidents in all of Norway last year, either.)

Overall, these encouraging outcomes largely appear to be the culmination of a variety of solutions and a continued focus on improvement. And while you can’t (yet) fully account for human error, thoughtful urban planning can go a long way. It’s almost as though prioritizing traffic safety actually works.

As a publication on Vision Zero states, “life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within the society”—not for the convenience of private vehicles, and certainly not for faster commutes.

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