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CORONA IN LONDON: Photo shows a general view of Oxford Circus in London, Britain. (Photo by Tim Ireland/Xinhua)

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.

TfL has also 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.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan

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.

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.

CORONA IN LONDON: A man walks past a closed pub in Covent Garden in central London, Britain. (Photo by Tim Ireland/Xinhua)

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.

Covid-19 poses the biggest challenge to London’s public transport network in TfL’s history,” said Mr Khan. “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 unusably 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 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.

“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.”

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