London is transforming parts of its city center into car-free zones to make space for pedestrians and cyclists as people return to work, the city’s Mayor Sadiq Khan and Transport for London said Friday.
Traffic in London fell 60 percent after the U.K. government imposed travel restrictions due to the coronavirus, but the city fears a return to crowded commutes and dense traffic as restrictions are eased.
To entice commuters to walk or cycle, and only use public transport as a last resort, the city Friday announced plans to convert a number of streets for walking and cycling only, while others will be limited to cyclists, pedestrians and buses.
The car-free zone will be one of the largest in the world, according to the announcement.
Even at full capacity, London’s public transport network can only accommodate up to 15 percent of usual traveler numbers if it’s to also meet 2-meter social distancing requirements, meaning the network faces “the biggest challenge … in TfL’s history,” Khan said.
But commuters shouldn’t turn to cars instead “because our roads would immediately become unusably blocked and toxic air pollution would soar,” Khan warned.
To discourage car use, the city is reintroducing a congestion charge and low emission zone — suspended since March — from Monday. The congestion charge will be increased to £15 per day (from £11.50 now) and extended to run seven days a week from late June.
“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,” Khan said.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday said people who can’t work from home should go to work but asked them to avoid public transport wherever possible.