King’s College London scientists have reported that levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) more than halved in some parts of central London during the coronavirus lockdown. Overall, reduced air pollution in London was hailed as a silver lining of the lockdown. As London looked to reopen gradually from July, analysts have highlighted that it is crucial the city builds on the unprecedented drop in urban pollution. This desire to reduce pollution—along with the need to maintain social distancing—has led many to endorse the idea of pedestrianising significant sections of central London.
Our latest poll in London in August found that Londoners overwhelmingly agree (56%) that most streets in central London should be made pedestrian-only, along the lines of Carnaby Street. Around a quarter (24%) neither agree nor disagree with the proposed measure while only 17% disagree.
A range of London areas have been pedestrianised to reduce car traffic and to allow shoppers to respect social distancing rules. For example, pedestrianizing London’s Soho area in the evenings has allowed restaurants to put seating outside and expand their number of table covers.
Pedestrianizing central London gains majority support across various parties: 51% of 2019 Conservative voters support the measure, as do 61% of 2019 Labour voters. One possible reason for the popularity of the policy across party lines is that it simultaneously fulfils the pro-environment agendas embraced by both parties as well as their stated desire to support the hospitality sector recovering from the pandemic.
Younger respondents show greater support for the measure. A majority (64%) of 18-to-24-year olds agree with the proposal compared to 45% (which is nevertheless a plurality) of 55-to-64-year olds. The disparity could be down to younger respondents’ greater comfort with utilising bikes and public transport, as well as the personal benefits they may gain from the pedestrianisation of areas such as Soho, especially the opportunity to eat and drink outdoors in central London. Older respondents, on the other hand, might be more concerned with how the changes could affect their mobility around the city.
Altogether, as London continues to reopen and manage the ‘new normal,’ making more streets in central London pedestrian-only appears likely to be a popular policy that would address many environmental and economic issues facing the capital post-COVID.