The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and Transport for London (TfL) have announced plans to transform parts of central London into one of the largest car-free zones in any capital city in the world.
This is necessary to enable safe social distancing on public transport in London as lockdown restrictions are eased, and will help support increased walking and cycling and improve the city’s air quality.
Enabling social distancing to happen on the public transport network as lockdown restrictions are eased will require a monumental effort from all Londoners. Public transport must only be used when absolutely necessary – as a last resort. Many more Londoners must now walk or cycle. Everyone who can work from home must continue doing so for the foreseeable future. We must all spend more of our leisure time in our local areas to avoid unnecessary journeys. Londoners who can only get to work on rail must now walk or cycle from rail stations rather than using the tube or bus.
The plans will create more space for social distancing when walking and cycling, ensuring that the people who have no choice but to return to work in central London can do so as safely as possible.
Some streets will be converted to walking and cycling only, with others restricted to all traffic apart from buses, as part of the Mayor’s latest bold Streetspace measures. Streets between London Bridge and Shoreditch, Euston and Waterloo and Old Street and Holborn may be limited to buses, pedestrians and cyclists to help boost safe and sustainable travel as our city starts to gradually emerge from national Covid-19 restrictions. Access for emergency services and disabled people will be maintained, but deliveries on some streets may need to be made outside of congestion charging hours.
Waterloo Bridge and London Bridge may be restricted to people walking, cycling and buses only, with pavements widened to enable people to safely travel between busy railway stations and their workplaces. TfL is looking into providing Zero Emission Capable taxis with access to both these bridges, and other areas where traffic is restricted.
TfL is working closely with those boroughs who are keen to do more to bring in changes to their roads in the coming days and weeks. In the past week alone, TfL has added around 5,000 square metres of extra space on footpaths across London, giving people space 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. Streetspace for London plans on key sections of TfL roads will be delivered in the coming weeks.
In line with the City of London’s plans to make its busiest roads car free as lockdown is eased, TfL is also working with the City of London Corporation on options to improve routes between Old Street and Bank, and between Cannon Street and Holborn to Bank for walking and cycling. More than half a million people work in the City of London and changes are needed to the historic streets to make room for social distancing for employees and support the economy.
The Mayor’s air quality programme, including the introduction of the ULEZ, had already contributed to a reduction of 44 per cent in roadside nitrogen dioxide in central London between February 2017 and January of this year. Following the Government announcement of coronavirus related travel restrictions, traffic levels on TfL roads fell by as much as 60 per cent and harmful nitrogen dioxide was down by around 50 per cent on some of London’s busiest roads. Traffic and pollution are now starting to rise again.
To prevent London’s roads from instantly becoming unusably blocked with congestion, TfL has confirmed that the Congestion Charge and Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) will be reintroduced on Monday 18 May. These schemes reduce congestion and pollution and help tackle the climate emergency, and the Low Emission Zone, which discourages the use of the dirtiest lorries and large vans, will also be reintroduced at the same time.
As a temporary measure and to support the transformation of London’s streets, it is proposed that the Congestion Charge will increase to £15 next month and the hours of operation extended as part of a package of temporary changes. These changes will be monitored and form part of a wider review of the Congestion Charge as agreed with the Government as part of the TfL funding deal.
Proposals include increasing the Congestion Charge to £15 and extending its hours of operation to 7am to 10pm, seven days a week, from 22 June. This would encourage Londoners not to make unnecessary car journeys, and is expected to reduce journeys within the Congestion Charge zone by a third. This would significantly reduce air pollution in central London compared to pre-Covid levels and help tackle the climate emergency.
TfL will be temporarily extending the Congestion Charge reimbursement scheme to continue to support NHS and care home staff, who are at the heart of the national effort in these unprecedented times. NHS and care home employees who work in the Congestion Charge zone will be reimbursed for journeys relating to coronavirus, including for their journeys to and from work.
Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, said, “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.
“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 unusable blocked and toxic air pollution would soar.
“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. That’s why these plans will transform parts of central London to create one of the largest car-free areas in any capital city in the world.
“If we want to make transport in London safe, and keep London globally competitive, then we have no choice but to rapidly re-purpose 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.
“I fully appreciate that this will be incredibly difficult for many Londoners. It will mean a fundamental re-imagining 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.”
Cllr Julian Bell, Chair of London Councils’ Transport and Environment Committee, said, “London’s boroughs have long been champions of walking and cycling – with many now responding to the coronavirus pandemic by working with TfL to introduce emergency measures to support people walking and cycling for essential journeys.
“In this challenging time, boroughs are seeing clear improvements to air quality and traffic levels as many make the positive switch from cars to other forms of travel. We welcome these measures from TfL, including the extension of the congestion charge reimbursement to care workers, and will continue to work closely with them to do everything we can to sustain this move to cleaner and greener forms of transport.”
Additional walking space has been added on the A23, outside Brixton station, as well as on Earl’s Court Road, Stoke Newington High Street and Camden High Street. Work is ongoing at Park Lane and Balham Boulevard to create temporary cycle lanes, and footpaths will be increased on Borough High Street, Nags Head and in Dalston to enable social distancing. TfL is also adding an initial 1,000 extra cycle parking spaces across London, focused around busy areas like high streets and transport hubs.
The Santander Cycles scheme is also supporting the switch to healthy and sustainable modes by setting up staffed hubs at Waterloo, Kings Cross, Holborn, Liverpool Street and Soho Square, to ensure that everyone who needs to travel in these areas has access to a bike. These hubs will be prioritising social distancing and cleaning will take place at each location.
Santander Cycles will continue to support NHS staff and other key workers by extending the offer of free hires to July. This provides these workers with an unlimited number of 30 minute journeys. More than 10,000 free hires to key workers have been made since the scheme launched in March.
TfL is set to publish a range of materials to help Londoners walk and cycle including a cycle Tube map and a Tube walking map.