Oslo aims to make city center car-free within four years

OSLO (Reuters) - Cars will be banned from central Oslo by 2019 to help reduce pollution, local politicians said on Monday, in what they said would be the first comprehensive and permanent ban for a European capital. The newly elected city council, made up of the Labor Party, the Greens and the Socialist Left, said the plans would benefit all citizens despite shopowners' fears they will hurt business. "We want to have a car-free center," Lan Marie Nguyen Berg, lead negotiator for the Green Party in Oslo, told reporters. "We want to make it better for pedestrians, cyclists. It will be better for shops and everyone." Under the plans, the council will build at least 60 kilometers of bicycle lanes by 2019, the date of the next municipal elections, and provide a "massive boost" of investment in public transport. Buses and trams will continue to serve the city center, and arrangements will be found for cars carrying disabled people and vehicles transporting goods to stores, the three parties said in a joint declaration. Oslo city council will hold consultations, study the experiences of other cities and conduct trial runs, the parties said. Several European capitals have previously introduced temporary car bans in their city centers, including Paris last month. Some such as London or Madrid have congestion charges to limit car traffic. Oslo has around 600,000 inhabitants and almost 350,000 cars in the whole city. Most car owners live outside the city center but within Oslo's boundaries. (Reporting by Gwladys Fouche and Terje Solsvik; Editing by Gareth Jones)