COVID-19 London reintroduces car-free zones as congestion charge and ULEZ
In order to achieve social distance in large cities, too, certain parts of the city centre in London are to be transformed into one of the largest car-free zones of any capital city in the world. London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Transport for London (TfL) are supporting these plans. This concept will benefit not only pedestrians and cyclists, but also the 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 (Ultra Low Emission Zones), 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 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.