Home Energy ‘Car-free zones’ launching in London as social-distancing measures herald a radical change...

‘Car-free zones’ launching in London as social-distancing measures herald a radical change in travel

A pop-up cycle lane in Park Lane, London, where bollards have been installed to create segregation between cyclists and other road users.

Stefan Rousseau | PA Images | Getty Images

The mayor of London and the local transport authority announced sweeping new measures Friday that could radically alter the way people move around the U.K. capital. 

The plans, which are part of the recently announced Streetspace program, are designed to enable appropriate and safe social distancing on the city’s public transport network by encouraging more people to walk and cycle, rather than use services like the bus or London Underground.

Under the new program, some of London’s streets will be turned over to pedestrians and cyclists only, while other streets will restrict all traffic except for buses — although authorities will maintain access for disabled people and emergency services.

It’s also possible that some of the city’s most famous bridges — Waterloo Bridge and London Bridge — will be used by buses, pedestrians and cyclists only, with sidewalks broadened to encourage more walking.

Work is already underway to change the layout of London’s streets, with roughly 5,000 square meters of extra sidewalk space added by Transport for London (TfL) in the past week. A temporary cycle lane on Park Lane, which runs alongside Hyde Park, has been introduced, with speed limits there set to be cut to 20 miles per hour. Temporary cycle lanes are being introduced to other parts of the city as well.

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit London’s public transport network in the pocket, with passenger numbers plummeting due to people staying at home. According to Mike Brown, TfL’s commissioner, fare and other revenue has dropped by 90%.

To this end, the U.K. government has announced a funding package of £1.6 billion ($1.95 billion) to protect services on a network that is vital to millions of people. The bailout — a combination of grants and loans — is dependent on several conditions, including boosting service levels “as soon as possible.” Fares on public transport are also due to be increased. 

From next week, London’s Congestion Charge, Ultra Low Emission Zone and Low Emission Zone will be reinstated to discourage car drivers and stop roads becoming blocked with traffic.

As part of the funding measures agreed with government, it is being proposed that the Congestion Charge be increased from £11.50 to £15 a day from June, with its hours extended to between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.

In a statement, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that Covid-19 posed “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,” Khan added. “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.”

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