Motor traffic and air pollution decline steeply, with walking and cycling in cities also down
Damian CarringtonLast modified on Fri 3 Apr 2020 15.35 BST
The coronavirus outbreak has brought Britain to a near standstill, with road travel plummeting by as much as 73%, to levels not seen since 1955.
All forms of travel have plunged in urban areas. Walking, cycling and car and van journeys are all down by about three-quarters, while bus numbers have fallen by 60%. The number of large lorries has declined by just 40% as essential supplies continue to be transported.
However, national data from Monday and Tuesday, the two most recent days available, shows a slight upward trend since the previous week, with motor traffic down only 63%, equivalent to 1962. The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, called the trend concerning. “Please follow medical and scientific advice to stay home and save lives,” he said.
The empty streets have already resulted in big drops in air pollution, which is likely to reduce early deaths from lung and heart conditions. Traffic deaths and injuries are near certain to have fallen, but data is not yet available. Noise pollution, which is also known to have adverse affects on human health, is down, and the quieter streets have encouraged wildlife to venture into some towns.
Cabinet Office data shows motor traffic dropped by 73% on 29 March compared with pre-outbreak levels. Guardian analysis shows the number of road miles travelled has not been this low since 1955, when far fewer people owned cars and there were no motorways. The government data also shows rail travel down 90%, and tube and bus journeys in London down by 94% and 83% respectively.
Some experts suggest that people who have learned how to work effectively from home may continue to do so for a day or two a week after the Covid-19 crisis is over. This could help tackle the climate emergency, because the transport sector is the biggest emitter and the only one to have increased its emissions in recent years. Others, however, say emissions could rise again if the coronavirus lockdown causes lasting financial damage to public transport services.