London’s vast array of new bicycle lanes were mostly empty this week despite Mayor Sadiq Khan launching a huge drive to get people to walk or cycle instead of using public transport.
Photographs taken today and yesterday across the capital in the likes of Tooting, Streatham, Balham, Islington, Mayfair and Victoria showed how the lanes were empty while cars and vans sat in heavy traffic alongside them.
The new lanes were brought in to encourage people to cycle to work by giving them more space and reduce the pressure on public transport amid fears over social distancing issues on the Underground and buses.
And Transport for London launched a marketing campaign called Now’s The Time last month, aimed at encouraging people to ‘get a workout on your way to lunch’ and ‘stretch your legs on your way to the pub’.
It comes as TfL had to ask the Government for a £4.5billion bailout after its revenue plummeted by 90 per cent and it quickly burned through its £2billion reserves after the coronavirus lockdown was imposed in March.
Cars, vans and buses queue along Upper Street in Islington, North London, next to an empty cycle lane at 5pm yesterday
A lone cyclist travels along a bike lane on Park Lane in London’s exclusive Mayfair district at 2.30pm yesterday
Empty new bike lanes cause long queues of cars and vans along Streatham High Road in South London at 10.30am today
An empty bicycle lane on the Tooting end of Balham High Street in South London next to queuing traffic at 8am today
A green traffic light for bicycles in Tooting, South London, today amid controversy over the implementation of cycle lanes
TfL has asked passengers using buses and Tubes to travel at quieter times outside the peak hours of 6.30am to 9.30am and 4pm to 7pm to help maintain social distancing, or use new and existing walking and cycling routes.
Its Streetspace for London plan brought in temporary walking and cycling lanes, with more than 177,000 square foot of extra pavement space and more than 28 miles of new or upgraded cycle lanes built or under construction.
But roads such as Balham High Street in South London, Upper Street in Islington and Park Lane in Mayfair were empty of bicycles today, with the reduced road space appearing to cause congestion for local motorists.
Elsewhere, on Colliers Wood High Street a cycle lane has been bizarrely built directly right through the underhang of a bus stop, with one Twitter user saying: ‘Can you spot the mistake on this? Waste of money!’
Meanwhile business leaders and experts today called on Mr Khan and Prime Minister Boris Johnson to campaign to reassure Londoners that the Underground is safe to use, according to the Evening Standard.
London’s new transport commissioner Andy Byford said people were ‘frustrated’ as he appealed to ‘elected leaders’ to work together on a message that people can ride on buses and trains safely from coronavirus.
This Transport for London graphic shows the open (in blue/purple) and proposed (in black) cycle routes across the capital
Sadiq Khan is overseeing the construction of a cycle network using temporary infrastructure to reduce crowding on Tubes
Transport for London launched a marketing campaign called Now’s The Time last month, with one of the posters seen today
One of the posters on the Transport for London network, pictured today, urges people to ‘get a workout on your way to lunch’
He added: ‘We’re saying, ‘We’re ready where you are’,’ he said. ‘But the perception is different from the reality — we get that, we get the psychology. We need to make sure people feel safe, not just that they are safe.’
Mr Byford took over at Transport for London in May having previously run the New York Transit Authority, and now faces a huge challenge to convince people that they can safely use public transport in London.
The Tube saw its busiest morning rush hour since lockdown yesterday, with about 600,000 journeys – up 8 per cent on the week before. In total by 10am there had been more than 1.2 million Tube and bus journeys.
But the number of Underground passengers last week was still down 67 per cent on a year ago. Eight per cent more bus journeys were taken last week compared to the week before, but it was down 45 per cent on 2019.
Mr Khan told the Evening Standard: ‘We have implemented a rigorous new cleaning regime using hospital-standard anti-viral disinfectant, installed hundreds of hand sanitising points, created more space for walking and cycling, put on extra school buses and are ensuring Londoners know when services are less busy.
‘However, the key to restoring confidence is getting and keeping the virus under control — which means the Government simply must sort out the test and trace system.’
This graphic shows how cycling (in grey) across Britain rose during lockdown as usage of other forms of transport such as rail and driving fell dramatically. However, cycling has since fallen off slightly in recent weeks, as a percentage of normal levels
London transport networks are barely busier than last week, with Tube use more than 70 per cent down on this time last year
This graphic shows Transport for London passenger usage split by the type of Underground station for each day
This morning, Britain’s roads and railways were still almost empty as the drive to get workers back to offices following the summer holidays stalled again.
While some London Underground trains were beginning to look busier during rush hour this morning, hardly anyone was to be seen arriving at major terminals in the capital including Waterloo and Paddington.
Commuters travelling into London on train lines such as Great Western Railway and Southeastern also tweeted photographs of near-empty carriages, while pictures of the M40 during rush hour also showed very light traffic.
London transport networks are barely busier than last week, with Tube use yesterday still more than 70 per cent down on this time last year. Buses in the capital are now carrying only half their usual numbers.
However, there were 550 jams across 230 miles of roads in London as of 8am, with congestion levels at 41 per cent, compared to 28 per cent last Wednesday – a rise of 13 percentage points or nearly double the amount.
TomTom data also showed this was up on the same time yesterday at 36 per cent, but still well below last year’s average of 67 per cent. Congestion at 7am today was 34 per cent, up from 25 per cent at the same time last week.
Vehicles pass by a bus lane at the Tooting end of Balham High Street in South London just after 8am this morning
Cars queue on Streatham High Road in South London at 10.30am today, an area badly blighted by traffic in recent weeks
Cars queue next to an empty cycle lane on Park Lane in London’s Mayfair district at 2.30pm yesterday
Photographs showed heavy traffic on roads in South West London today including in Putney and Roehampton, with Google Traffic maps showing delays on routes mostly inside the North and South Circular roads
It comes as Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said ‘more than half’ of staff are ‘fully back in the offices’ at the Department for Work and Pensions amid a push for civil servants to get back to their desks.
As Downing Street tries to encourage people back to the workplace, Ms Coffey told BBC Breakfast: ‘Even then we have capacity on how many people can be in a Covid-safe environment within our workplace.’
Ms Coffey added that 799 of the department’s 804 sites are open, and hoped that children returning to school would give parents more opportunities to go back to the office.
She said: ‘It’s important that employers and employees have that discussion about Covid-safe environments. There will be more opportunities for parents to go back into the office if that’s what is the best thing for them and their employer.’
Britain took a huge step back to normality yesterday as children finally returned to school, but the drive to get workers back to offices stalled again – on the first day after the summer holidays.
Empty new bike lanes are causing long queues of cars and vans on Streatham High Road in South London at 10.30am today
On Colliers Wood High Street a cycle lane has been bizarrely built directly right through the underhang of a bus stop
Cars queue alongside an empty new bike lane on Streatham High Road in South London at 10.30am this morning
Early reports put pupil attendance at above 90 per cent – a figure at little risk of being matched in many workplaces. Ministers hoped reopening schools after six months would let more parents return to the office.
But many of the largest railway stations remained eerily empty during what was once the rush hour.
Figures out yesterday suggested that West End traders could lose £10billion a year and shed 50,000 jobs because of a sharp drop in business from commuters and foreign visitors.
Sir Charles Walker, vice-chairman of the 1922 committee of backbenchers, said most healthy adults had little to fear from coronavirus and should get on with their lives now the epidemic was under control.
‘I want the PM to level with the nation, be honest with the nation, look it in the eye and say it is all of our duty to do our bit for our communities and society,’ he told Channel 4 News.
‘At the forefront of that is getting on with our lives and going back to work.’
Fellow Tory MP Steve Baker, who returned to Parliament yesterday along with all his staff, said: ‘Of course it’s disappointing that workers aren’t going back, and I would advise the public to consider the consequences of their continuing to work from home when their children are back in the classroom.
A TfL bus drives along a cycle lane on Victoria Street near Victoria train station, in a picture tweeted yesterday morning
A new cycling and walking corridor has been constructed on Bishopsgate in the City of London, photographed yesterday
A cycle lane added to Upper Tooting Road in South London has caused travel chaos in the area, with vehicles left queuing
‘I don’t want to condemn anyone, but I would advise people to look down the road and look at the ruin that awaits us if we don’t get back to the office.
‘There are people relying on office workers coming back, and many of them will lose their jobs. The consequences will be dire for ordinary working people, the whole economy and inevitably eventually for every last one of us.’
Downing Street fears huge job losses in town and city centre shops and cafes if workers do not return to their pre-lockdown commuter patterns.
Later this week, ministers will launch a PR blitz, encouraging all employees to get back to normality.
Mr Johnson has faced criticism for failing to up his rhetoric on the issue. There have also been questions about the Government’s inability to get civil servants back to set an example.
The Prime Minister attempted to address the issue at his socially-distanced Cabinet meeting in the Foreign Office yesterday, saying: ‘Across the country hundreds and thousands, millions of pupils are going back to school thanks to the huge efforts their teachers and their parents have made over the last few days and weeks.
‘People are going back to the office in huge numbers across our country, and quite right too.’ No 10 said it was unable to provide any evidence to support this claim.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘It is too soon for us to be able to share figures with you on people returning to work. The message from the PM is he recognises the importance that returning to work has in stimulating the economy.’
A person walks alongside an escalator at Canary Wharf Underground station in East London this morning
Empty bus stops outside London Victoria station this morning as parts of the capital remain very quiet during rush hour
The concourse at London’s Waterloo station looks very quiet this morning despite it being rush hour in the capital
An empty concourse at London Paddington train station this morning as railway stations continue to be nearly deserted
He said more civil servants would begin to return ‘over the coming weeks’. Former transport minister John Spellar accused Mr Johnson of ‘making it up’ to cover for government indecisiveness.
He added: ‘If No 10 have any evidence to support the Prime Minister’s claims they should publish it immediately. If they are serious about encouraging people back to work, then transparency and credibility are absolutely vital.’
Transport for London confirmed Tube numbers were down 72 per cent yesterday compared with the same day last year. Bus use was down 53 per cent.
However, the authority said Underground use had risen 8 per cent in a week and buses by 6 per cent.
Train timetables will be restored to almost 100 per cent of pre-pandemic levels from Monday although rail insiders suspect any increase will be slight because many operators have told their staff to continue working from home for months to come.
The Mail revealed that in late July just 20 per cent of civil servants were back at their desks – the only time the Government has revealed any details at all about working patterns in the wake of the pandemic.
Whitehall’s union boss has warned that just a third of civil servants are likely to be back by Christmas.
Nickie Aiken, Tory MP for Cities of London and Westminster, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that as many as 50,000 employees in the capital’s retail sector faced losing their jobs due to the lack of visitors.
She pinned some blame on a ‘huge fall-off in confidence’ in public transport.