Back in July, I wrote three posts about a walk through the City of London to photograph the pubs. The majority were closed, and being a weekend, the City was quiet. A couple of Monday’s ago I had to be in Clerkenwell, so as usual, I took the opportunity for a walk, this time through the City.
In decades of walking London, I have never seen the City of London as it is today. Offices empty, shops closed, the streets deserted.
The pandemic will pass, but it will be interesting to see whether the City of London will return to a pre-COVID city, or perhaps changes in working patterns will result in a different city.
Last August, I downloaded data from the Department for Transport which shows the impact on transport systems. I have downloaded the latest data which runs from the 1st March to the 26th October 2020. The data provides usage as percentages of an equivalent day or week.
The following graph shows usage on the London Underground.
The graph shows that after the initial lock down, there was a gradual increase in use, however the graph is now on a downward trend as a second wave arrives.
Interesting that the peaks are the weekends, so as a percentage of the equivalent week, the reduction is not as bad as weekdays, however they are still very low, with the weekend of the 24th and 25th October coming in at 37% and 41% for the two days.
The Monday I was walking through the City, underground usage was 32% of the equivalent day pre-COVID.
London bus travel has returned to a slightly higher level, but is still averaging 56% of pre-COVID usage, and the initial growth in use has stalled and possibly reducing as shown in the following graph:
The drop to zero is the period when Transport for London introduced the middle-door only boarding policy, with no requirement to touch in, so obviously lost any meaningful passenger number data.
I started on the south bank of the river as I had been looking at alleys in Bankside and at 10:20 on a Monday morning, walked across a very quiet Millennium Bridge:
10:45 – standing on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, looking down Ludgate Hill:
St Paul’s Cathedral has reopened to visitors and a security tent has been erected on the steps:
Waiting for the visitors:
If you want to avoid crowds, now is probably a good time to visit the cathedral, although the Whispering Gallery and the Golden Gallery at the very top are currently closed.
10:50 on a Monday morning and Paternoster Square:
10:57, and looking down Cheapside from the junction with New Change:
Many of the City’s streets have been closed to traffic, made into one-way streets, and have additional pedestrian and cycle spaces. Cheapside is now closed as a through road with the exception of cycles.
11:18, the Bank junction:
The view looking down Old Broad Street, now a single lane street for one way traffic, with the other lane now allocated for cycle lanes.
I am unsure of the changes being made to the City’s roads. Cycling is far better than traffic, there is no doubt about that, however ever since I started working in London in 1979, the city has been busy and noisy. Busy pavements and busy roads with red busses, black cabs and general traffic, and it is that which makes a city live. Without people, without busy roads, the city feels very hollowed out.
There is a wealth of data made available online by various Government departments and the Mayor of London. I have shown some of the Department for Transport statistics earlier in the post, and the Mayor of London makes data available on the utilisation of the Santander Cycle Hire Scheme. This covers the whole of the scheme rather than just the City.
I downloaded the spreadsheet and created the following graphs.
The first graph shows the number of bicycle hires each month from the start of 2019 till the end of September 2020.
Whilst in the summer of 2019, bicycle hires peaked once at just under 1.2 million a month, in 2020, they have been running just under the same number for about 4 months which shows a sustained increase in cycling, rather than just a single peak.
The data also includes the average hire time, and throughout the whole of 2019 and early 2020 this averaged just under 20 minutes, since April of this year average hire times increased significantly, although they now appear to be falling back.
I could not find any 2020 data on taxi usage in London, but this must also be a trade that is suffering significantly.
The Department for Transport does publish data showing the number of licensed taxis (Black Cabs) and Private Hire Vehicles (Uber etc.) going back to 1965 which makes an interesting study in how this form of transport has changed over the years.
The following graph shows the number of licensed taxis in London from 1965 to the end of 2019 (in thousands):
The DfT spreadsheet is missing data for some years between 2020 and 2019, but the trend is clear.
There was a continuous rise in the number of licensed taxis from 1965, which flattened off from 2010 and now appears to be decreasing possibly due to the rise of private hire vehicles using apps such as Uber. Plotting the number of private hire vehicles in London on the same graph as licensed taxis shows the impact that this new form of transport must be having (left hand column in thousands):
Private hire vehicles are the orange dots, and the DfT spreadsheet only has data on these from 2005, but the rapid rise in numbers in the last few years is clear, and there is now over a 4 to 1 ratio of private hire vehicles to licensed taxis.
It will be interesting in the years ahead to watch how road usage in the city changes.
Back to walking the City of London.
Many of the take away food shops were closed. Those that were open were frequently empty:
11:45 Gresham Street:
Photography helps to record change, and I have been photographing the closed shops in the City to return to later and see how many have reopened. It is also important to remember that behind each closed shop, there are multiple jobs and lives that are suffering financial impact.
12:15 An empty Pret:
The main visible sign of work in the City of London seems to be road works, clsoing roads, diversions and making space for cycle lanes and pavement widening.
12:30 The North Wing entrance to the City of London Corporation offices:
12:42 Empty space between the office blocks
Looking east along London Wall.
Looking west along London Wall:
The majority of the city office blocks were open, but there appeared to be very few people working in them. Most entrance foyers just had reception and security staff pacing up and down, waiting for the visitors that will not be arriving.
At the start of Aldersgate Street:
The Old Red Cow – Long Lane. The interior of the pub is a small space and a sign on the window states that the Old Red Cow is now closed “until normality ensues once again”.
Costa – Long Lane. I suspect that the hi-vis workers from the nearby Crossrail works are helping to keep this coffee shop open.
Ask for Janice bar and resturant – Long Lane. Closed until “this is all over”.
15:15 Old Bailey
Closed shops in Old Bailey. Two of the hardest hit industries – travel and hospitality:
15:28 City Thameslink Station
WH Smith store temporarily closed in the station entrance:
Fleet Street – old Vodafone shop up for sale.
Fleet Street has many closed take away food shops. Itsu:
Sainsbury’s Local – Fleet Street, temporarily closed
A hopefully temporary halt to fresh Mexican food:
Along with Thai food:
A number of shops and takeaways have been boarded up, adding to the impression of a City and business model in trouble.
Photographing the signs that will one day be a distant memory:
Just outside the border of the City of London, Simmons Bar closed and boarded.
The City without people is really a collection of buildings without purpose, and this is probably the City of London until next Spring. It will be fascinating to watch how the City develops next.