London Mayor plans car-free zones in Covid-19 transformation

Aditi Khanna

London, May 15 (PTI) The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, on Friday announced plans to transform parts of central London into one of the largest car-free zones in any capital city in the world.

The mayor said the strategy, alongside Transport for London (TfL), is necessary to enable safe social distancing on public transport in the UK capital as the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased, and called on Londoners to walk and cycle more to improve the city’s air quality.

“Covid-19 poses 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,” said Khan.

“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,” he said.

He urged Londoners to not to use public transport unless it is absolutely “unavoidable” and must be a “last resort”, calling on people to continue to work from home where possible.

“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,” he said.

The changes include a hike in Congestion Charge, both in terms of price and the timings. The charge will temporarily rise to 15 pounds and be imposed between 7am to 10pm, seven days a week, from June 22.

The aim is to encourage Londoners not to make unnecessary car journeys, and is expected to reduce journeys within the Congestion Charge zone by a third.

The proposals are intended to 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 so-called “Streetspace” measures.

Busy traffic hubs such as 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 said it is looking into providing Zero Emission Capable taxis with access to both these bridges, and other areas where traffic is restricted.

Gareth Powell, TfL’s Managing Director for Surface Transport, said: “Throughout this extremely difficult time, Londoners have followed government guidance not to travel and we have seen an unprecedented drop in traffic levels. This brought with it a dramatic fall in pollution.

“In the last few weeks, the capital has become a greener, cleaner place and we are determined to keep it this way. To prevent the city clogging up, and to support the greater levels of walking and cycling that will be vital to London’s re-start, we are reinstating road user charging schemes and making walking and cycling easier and safer than ever before.” The changes come in as the London Mayor, in charge of the capital’s transport, reached an agreement with the UK government on a coronavirus rescue package of 1.6 billion pounds to keep the network up and running through the crisis.

He said that it was not the deal he had wanted as it means some fare increases for Londoners are now inevitable.

“The government is, in effect, making ordinary Londoners pay the cost for doing the right thing on Covid-19. They want fares to go up next January – ending the four years fares freeze I delivered after the last election,” said Khan, who was to face re-election earlier this month but the mayoral poll has been postponed to May 2021 due to the pandemic. PTI AK PMS PMS