Minister tackles traffic in Oslo

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Transport Minister Kjetil Solvik-Olsen wants to keep traffic flowing in Oslo, also after the summer holidays end and commuters return. He’s gearing to offer more state support for public transportation in Norway’s largest city, in an effort to keep congestion from returning as well.

Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen wants to keep commuters on public transportation instead of back in the driver's seat of their cars when the summer holiday season ends. PHOTO: Samferdselsdepartementet

Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen wants to keep commuters on public transportation instead of back in the driver’s seat of their cars when the summer holiday season ends. PHOTO: Samferdselsdepartementet

Traffic authorities and not least the media were left scratching their heads early last month, when massive congestion expected to result from tunnel closures failed to materialize. The mysterious, if welcome, lack of congestion could only be explained by commuters’ decisions to leave their cars at home and opt for other means of getting to work and school. People took the bus instead or other forms of public transport, or started cycling and walking.

Newspaper Dagsavisen reported that now the public kollektiv transport option in Oslo is being strengthened, to hang on to commuters who started opting for the bus, tram, metro or train. Solvik-Olsen held a meeting recently with representatives from state railway NSB, the public transport agency Ruter and state highway officials, where they discussed means of making sure commuters don’t head back to their cars.

Boosting capacity
“Starting in August, Ruter will add bus routes over Smestad (the heavily trafficked intersection where tunnel work is underway) to increase capacity,” Solvik-Olsen told Dagsavisen. He also has urged NSB to make good use of new trains, to keep train passengers happy and riding the rails instead of the roads. “We’ll be discussing which lines will get double train service,” he said.

Solvik-Olsen also set a new meeting with the transport chiefs after his own summer holiday ends in August. “We have to figure out how we can avoid traffic congestion again,” he told Dagsavisen.

Studies have shown that fully a third of commuters who used to drive to work  found other means of transport when maintenance work on the Smestad tunnel begain, closing two lanes of traffic on the otherwise busy Ring 3 highway around Oslo. Traffic actually started flowing better after the lanes closed, astonishing and delighting traffic planners.

Big gain in cycling
There’s been a gradual increase in traffic since the first week when tunnel work began on June 2, but not much, while researchers have registered a 25-45 percent increase in cyclists on key bicycle paths into downtown. NSB has registerd an 8 percent increase in passengers, and buses are packed.

Newspaper Aftenposten has reported concerns that congestion will rise again in August, but officials are trying to prevent that. While local traffic is a local government issue, Solvik-Olsen is sending signals that the state will back measures to continue commuter reform.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund