1. Transport
May 21, 2020

Lockdown has massively reduced London’s air pollution

By Jonn Elledge

This is not unexpected, but is cheery nonetheless: lockdown has meant a radical improvement in London’s air quality. 

According to figures released by the City of London Corporation – the baffling body which, among other things, is the municipal council for the British capital’s historic business district – nitrogen dioxide levels in the area have reduced around 35% since the beginning of lockdown. Here’s a graph:

Pollution levels at Upper Thames Street. Image: Corporation of London.

All this is probably connected to the fact that around half of London’s air pollution comes from road transport. That’s a particular problem in the City, where a combination of tall buildings and narrow streets makes it difficult for the resulting pollutants to escape. It feels like a marker of the seachange the crisis has meant in London’s transport policy that the press release announcing all this includes the sentence, “Nearly half of car trips made by Londoners before the coronavirus lockdown could be cycled in around ten minutes.”

While we’re on this topic, press-coverage loving sat nav app Waze has released figures showing that, since lockdown began, the UK has seen a 70% fall in kilometres driven on the levels recorded in mid-February. (Technically, it just shows a 70% fall in the kilometres for which drivers are using Waze, but it’s probably reasonable to assume that’s the same thing.)

The company released this graph, showing changes in driving levels across some of England’s major cities:

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Image: Waze.

What is going on with Liverpool in early March I have no idea.

Here’s one more, showing the same figures at a national level:

Image: Waze.

You can see that the UK and US were slower to lockdown. Also, strangely, that Waze users in those countries, especially the US, are more likely to drive on the weekend.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.


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