London recently announced plans to create “one of the largest car-free zones in any capital city in the world” as pandemic restrictions ease in the United Kingdom.
The move is intended to allow for safe physical distancing on public transport and support increased walking and cycling, while improving the city’s air quality.
According to a press release from the office of the Mayor of London, some streets will only allow walking and cycling, while others will be traffic-free except for buses, though Zero Emissions Capable taxi may be allowed in areas where traffic is restricted.
Iconic areas, including streets between London Bridge and Shoreditch, Euston and Waterloo and Old Street and Holborn, as well as London Bridge itself and Waterloo Bridge may be restricted to just buses, pedestrians and cyclists. The two bridges may also see their pavements widened.
In the week leading up to this first easing of COVID-19 restrictions, Transport for London added about 5,000 square metres of extra space on footpaths across London, to enable people to safely walk and queue for local shops while maintaining social distancing. Work has begun on the first temporary cycle lane along Park Lane, where the speed limit will also be reduced to 20mph to reduce road danger.
“Covid-19 poses the biggest challenge to London’s public transport network in TfL’s history. It will take a monumental effort from all Londoners to maintain safe social distancing on public transport as lockdown restrictions are gradually eased,” said Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
“That means we have to keep the number of people using public transport as low as possible. And we can’t see journeys formerly taken on public transport replaced with car usage because our roads would immediately become unusably blocked and toxic air pollution would soar,” he said.
To help prevent this, the Congestion Charge and Ultra Low Emission Zone came back into force on Monday, 18 May.
According to the Mayor’s office, London’s air quality programme, including the introduction of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone, contributed to a drop of 44 per cent in roadside nitrogen dioxide in central London between February 2017 and January 2020.
As in most cities in the world, when COVID-19 pandemic restrictions kicked in, traffic levels on roads managed by Transport for London fell by as much as 60 per cent and nitrogen dioxide emissions dropped by about 50 per cent on some of London’s busiest roads — but, last week, they had begun rising again.
“If we want to make transport in London safe, and keep London globally competitive, then we have no choice but to rapidly repurpose London’s streets for people. By ensuring our city’s recovery is green, we will also tackle our toxic air which is vital to make sure we don’t replace one public health crisis with another. I urge all boroughs to work with us to make this possible,” said Khan.
“I ask that Londoners do not use public transport unless it is absolutely unavoidable – it must be a last resort. If you can work from home you should continue to do so. We should all spend more of our leisure time in our local areas too.
“We will need many more Londoners to walk and cycle to make this work,” he said.
“I fully appreciate that this will be incredibly difficult for many Londoners. It will mean a fundamental reimagining how we live our lives in this city. And this transformation will not be smooth. But I promise to be as clear and upfront with Londoners as possible about what we are doing, why and exactly what we need from you in order to keep us safe.”
Read the full press release here: Car-free zones in London as Congestion Charge and ULEZ reinstated
Banner photo by Tejvan Pettinger/London Cycling/CC BY 2.0