London to mandate car-free zones

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London Mayor Sadiq Khan plans to turn central parts of the British capital into one of the world’s largest car-free zones, ITV reported Friday. The move is a response to the ongoing Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Transport for London (TfL), the city’s transportation agency, said car-free zones would help enable social distancing on public transit. With streets closed to cars, more people will be encouraged to ride bicycles or walk, instead of crowding onto buses or subways, the reasoning goes.

Khan said public transit should only be used when absolutely necessary, and that everyone who can work from home must continue doing so for the foreseeable future, ITV reported.

To limit public transit use within the city center, workers are being encouraged to complete their journeys from commuter rail stations by bike or on foot, rather than bus or subway. Buses will still be allowed in some car-free zones, but others will reportedly be closed entirely to vehicular traffic.

Diesel taxis in London (Image by Flickr user Lars Ploughmann, used under CC license)

Diesel taxis in London (Image by Flickr user Lars Ploughmann, used under CC license)

London will also reintroduce its congestion charge beginning May 18, followed by its Ultra Low Emission Zone next month. The congestion charge will increase to 15.00 British pounds (approximately $18.00), and hours of operation will be extended June 22, running from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., seven days a week.

Car-free zone rules will accommodate emergency services and people with disabilities, although some deliveries may need to be done outside congestion-charge hours, the report said.

It’s unclear how the rules will affect operations of London’s famous taxis.

Several cities have experimented with restricting car use. Paris banned cars registered before 1997 from its city center, and has regularly declared day-long bans of all cars. These measures are typically aimed at reducing air pollution, but have now become a tool for encouraging social distancing. New York City has closed miles of streets to give people more room to spread out.

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