Help us combat COVID-19 by suggesting healthier streets

Our transport response to COVID-19

COVID-19, the national response and the need to maintain social distancing have changed how we live, work and travel causing people to spend more time at home and in local streets, spaces and communities. The lockdowns have demonstrated the benefits of much less driving with quieter and safer streets, cleaner air and more walking and cycling and greater health and fitness. Especially for vulnerable groups, including the young, elderly, impaired and people with health problems (particularly respiratory and cardiac conditions). Less traffic also helps to tackle air pollution and climate emergencies.

Whilst it is often difficult to make changes the lockdowns have demonstrated the benefits of less driving and pollution, greater health and a better work/life balance, which many people now want to maintain - especially for the majority of our residents who do not own a motor vehicle, but experience their impacts.

Therefore, we want to work with residents, businesses and visitors to retain as many transport, health and environmental benefits as possible; to create calmer and cleaner streets and spaces where it is easier to socially distance and safer for everyone and it is easier to walk, use prams, wheelchairs and mobility aids, bicycles, and public transport.

Many towns and cities in the UK and across the world are reducing road space to create larger areas to walk and cycle and socially distance. The Government “therefore expects local authorities to make significant changes to their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians,” because “We need people to carry on cycling, and to be joined by millions more, particularly while public transport capacity is still reduced.” If we do not greatly increase walking and cycling we will get much higher levels of driving, congestion and pollution than our roads can cope with.

The Government replaced the council’s annual funding with six months funding from April to October 2020, and recently agreed to a further four months funding from mid November till the end of March 2021. To help councils deliver the Government has instructed us to quickly introduce experimental measures, then fine-tune them using people’s comments, and after six months consult people on whether to keep them. Please note that councils always seek the views of the emergency services before testing any changes to a street.

Southwark’s response to COVID-19

Southwark’s response to COVID-19 has been shaped by the following council documents and Government instructions:

  • Movement Plan (2019) (PDF, 1.9mb)
  • Climate Change statement (2019)
  • TfL’s Streetspace Plan (15 May 2020)
  • Southwark’s Streetspace Plan (14 July 2020)
  • DfT’s Gear Change report (27 July 2020)
  • Traffic Management Act 2004: network management in response to COVID-19 (13 November 2020)

The Movement Plan is the overarching document that guides all our transport measures and it has undergone an Equalities Impact Assessment (EqIA).

Our seven transport responses to COVID-19

1) Commonplace website

We launched our Commonplace website at the start of lockdown to help people quickly and effectively request changes to their streets. This website helped us to hear more requests from more people in more places in the borough. Our Commonplace website received more than 2,000 requests for street improvements.

2) Programme and budget

This year’s emergency work programme and budget focussed on rapidly introducing experimental measures to provide social distancing, improve walking and cycling routes (especially at pinch points) and to discourage driving. Especially to provide measures to help the most vulnerable people and places who are most affected by COVID-19 typically due to traffic pollution and poor walking and cycling facilities.

3) Social distancing measures

Under our “Reopening the high street” work programme we introduced emergency social distancing measures on Rye Lane, Walworth Road and Lordship Lane. These measures widen pavements so people can safely queue, pass each other and exercise. We're monitoring these high streets and making any necessary adjustments so they stay safe.

4) Lifting the lockdown

As the government lifted the first lockdown we quickly introduced experimental measures using an interactive reporting tool, Commonplace. This helped us to identify new measures to try to protect communities, especially schools, encourage walking, cycling and public transport, and discourage driving. We will continue to listen and work with residents using Commonplace and other channels to refine these experimental measures.

5) Working with neighbouring councils

We are working with neighbouring councils to coordinate our efforts to connect routes and measures together to improve walking, cycling and public transport as alternatives to driving.

6) Working with Transport for London

We will continue to work with TfL, who own the largest roads and junctions, to identify further walking, cycling and public transport measures as alternatives to driving.

7) Working with other partners

We continue to work with our partners to help each other introduce transport improvements. Including our Walking and Cycling Steering Groups; Southwark Cyclists; Living Streets; Sustrans; Guys and St Thomas’ Charitable Trust; Business Improvement Districts and major landowners.

How you can help

We welcome your comments on the measures we're taking and would be pleased to receive any comments or suggestions for other measures that will help with social distancing, discouraging traffic, improving cycling/walking and identifying pinch points.

Add comment

Movement Plan

Our Movement Plan includes an equity framework which we are currently developing further. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted significant equity problems in society for different people, places and experiences caused by high levels of driving and pollution, and the need for better walking, cycling and public transport facilities.


Initial evidence is that certain people are at higher risk of catching COVID-19 and having worse outcomes. These groups are: BAME (people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds), men, the elderly, people with obesity, people living in deprived areas, working in certain public facing roles and people with multiple long term conditions (including diabetes, hypertension, COPD and dementia).


The lockdown has highlighted various places in Southwark where it is difficult for people to socially distance and exercise to improve their health and fitness. On the highway, these places typically include bridges and tunnels, high streets and transport hubs. They often need wider pavements, less clutter, more crossings and better cycle facilities, especially the many places in the borough experiencing regeneration and growth.


Air quality noticeably improved during the lockdown for people with respiratory conditions, including the infection rates and recovery times for those with COVID-19. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution fell by 31% across London due to 80% less driving and public transport use in the UK, along with lower industrial activity at the peak of the lockdown.

Less driving during lockdown also made streets quieter and safer with more people choosing to walk and cycle and use their local shops and parks. With people being more aware of air and noise pollution, their health and quality of life benefits from less driving.

How we will manage associated transport problems

The lockdown reduced traffic, but this enabled some motorists to drive at illegal speeds, which are dangerous for everyone, threatens and deters people from walking and cycling (especially vulnerable groups) and increases air and noise pollution. In the short term, speeding can be managed by police enforcement and in the medium term by transport measures when funding becomes available.

The government is encouraging social distancing on public transport with services only carrying about 20 per cent of passengers. As the government lifted the lockdown, many people switched to driving with TfL projecting 70 to 80 per cent more vehicles on Southwark’s roads than pre-COVID levels. This caused much greater congestion and pollution, deterring people from walking and cycling, and worsening COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses.

We will continue to work with residents to identify more ways to increase walking, cycling and public transport use with TfL and to reduce traffic.

Page last updated: 01 November 2022


Privacy settings