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, thus enabling safe social distancing on public transport, helping to support increased walking and cycling, and improving the city’s air quality.

If we want to make transport in London safe, and keep London globally competitive, then we have 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.

– Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London

Making social distancing happen

Enabling social distancing to happen on the public transport network will require a monumental effort from all Londoners. Citizens must indeed use public transport only 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; 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.

How will social distancing work

Conversion to walking and cycling, as well as restriction to all traffic apart from buses is in the plans as part of the Mayor’s latest bold Streetspace measures. Authorities may limit the streets between London Bridge and Shoreditch, Euston and Waterloo and Old Street and Holborn to buses, pedestrians and cyclists to help boost safe and sustainable travel as London starts to gradually emerge from national Covid-19 restrictions.

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 traffic-restricted areas.

The London Streetspace programme is a fantastic opportunity to help Londoners move about the city in safe and sustainable ways in greater numbers than we have ever seen before.  This will put public health, safety and the environment at the heart of London’s gradual emergence from lockdown.

– Gareth Powell, TfL’s Managing Director for Surface Transport

TfL: rolling up sleeves

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. Authorities will deliver streetspace for London plans on key sections of TfL roads in the coming weeks.

In line with the City of London’s plans to make its busiest roads car free as lockdown fades, 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. More than half a million people work in the City: changes are needed to make room for social distancing for employees.

We are working to get the City back on its feet gradually in a safe and sustainable manner in partnership with TfL. That is why we are prioritising space for pedestrians and cyclists as any significant increase in the use of cars or taxis would lead to congestion, increased air pollution and road danger.

– Alastair Moss, Chair of the City of London Corporation’s Planning and Transportation Committee

Back at it again with the London ULEZ

Between February 2017-January 2020, London’s air quality programme had already contributed to a reduction of 44% in roadside nitrogen dioxide. Following the Government announcement of coronavirus related travel restrictions, traffic levels on TfL roads fell by as much as 60% and harmful nitrogen dioxide was down 50% 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 (CC) 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; the Low Emission Zone, which discourages the use of the dirtiest lorries and vans, will also be reintroduced.

Congestion Charge to reduce air pollution

As a temporary measure, authorities will increase the Congestion Charge to £15 next month and extend the hours of operation (to 7am to 10pm, seven days a week, from 22 June) as part of a package of temporary changes. These changes will form part of a wider review of the Congestion Charge as part of the TfL funding deal. This review would encourage Londoners to avoid unnecessary car journeys, thus reducing journeys within the CC zone by a third. This would significantly reduce air pollution in central London compared to pre-Covid levels and help tackle the climate emergency, too.

Santander Cycles will continue to support NHS staff and 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.

– Cllr Julian Bell, Chair of London Councils’ Transport and Environment Committee

TfL will be temporarily extending the Congestion Charge reimbursement scheme to continue to support NHS and care home staff. NHS and care home employees who work in the Congestion Charge zone will receive reimbursements for journeys relating to coronavirus, including for their journeys to and from work.