London roads at busiest level in three months as lockdown starts to lift
Traffic on London’s streets has gone back to levels last seen before the third lockdown but experts predict it will take another five months before any sense of normality returns.
National data from the Department of Transport released today showed car use was back at 70% of normal levels on Monday – the first day schools returned across the country.
This compared to 64% last week and 41% on January 24, the quietest day of the third lockdown. It’s the highest figure since Christmas Eve.
Separate stats from Transport for London – who control 5% of the capital’s roads – showed that on Tuesday the number of kilometres traveled on the network during the AM peak was down 9% compared to last year.
This represents a significant increase in traffic compared to the day lockdown started on January 5 when daily km was down 22.9%.
Traffic levels this week compare to those seen in November when road usage was down between 10 and 15%.
Overall the third lockdown never succeeded in pushing down traffic to the levels seen during the first wave, when car usage fell to 22% of normal levels on the quietest day.
Edmund King, the president of the AA, told Metro that it appeared many more people have been driving on the roads than previously.
‘Traffic in the current lockdown has been higher than expected’, he said. ‘The main roads have been running at 65 -70% of normal capacity which seems high as only key workers and essential journeys should be taking place.
‘One thing we have noticed in terms of breakdowns is that the “rush hour” in the morning went back several hours from 8-9am to 12-1pm which suggests that some going out on the roads venture out later due to working from home.
‘With schools returning this week we did notice an increase in local traffic in the morning but breakdowns remained fairly constant which seems to suggest drivers took our advice and checked their cars before venturing out.’
Schools going back marked the first stage of the UK’s long-awaited exit from lockdown, a process that is due to continue on March 29.
TfL had urged parents to carry out the school run by walking or cycling amid fears people will take to their cars while public transport use remains restricted.
The latest DfT figures show a slight uptick in tube and bus use in London this week but both are still way down on what would normally be expected.
The department has ploughed money into controversial schemes known as ‘low traffic neighbourhoods’ in an attempt to dissuade people against excessive car use.
Roads outside schools have also been closed off during morning and afternoon drop-off times.
TfL say in London these ‘school streets’ have led to 18% of parents reporting driving to school less and a 23% drop in nitrogen dioxide levels.
Mr King said it will likely take five months before traffic stabilises again, and it’s unlikely that the full long-term impact of lockdown will be seen until then.
He said: ‘Our view is that traffic levels will remain lower for five months or so as the vaccination programme continues to roll out.
‘Obviously we will see localised increases as shops and services reopen. People avoiding public transport in the London area and possibly taking to the roads will be balanced by many employees continuing to work from home for perhaps three days per week.
‘Road traffic is also constrained in London by the Congestion Charge and the lack or expense of public parking. So overall traffic levels will remain at least 15% below previous levels but there might be some localised hotspots when shops and other services reopen.’
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