Where coronavirus stopped pedestrians in their tracks

London showed the lowest decrease in pedestrian activity among Europe's major capital cities. (Tolga Akmen / AFP via Getty Images)

Coronavirus lockdowns led to a remarkable drop in movement around the world, but how much have people stopped moving around their cities?

Among Europe's major capital cities, Rome and Paris saw the biggest decreases in pedestrian activity in Apple Maps after authorities asked people to stay home, according to a CityMetric analysis.

People in Rome sent about 90% fewer requests for walking directions than they did before quarantine began, according to anonymised user data from Apple. Paris isn't far behind, with an average 83% drop in requests for walking directions. London, meanwhile, saw the smallest change, with a drop of just 61%.

Apple's data offers one look at how movement patterns have evolved over time in response to Covid-19. Because the virus has spread at different rates across the globe, cities were affected – and imposed lockdowns – at different times.

To provide a fair comparison between them, we looked at pedestrian activity starting with the first day of lockdown in each city. We also decided to only look at walking, since data on public transit mobility is not consistently available in all locations.

For a baseline, we used an average of pedestrian activity in the two weeks before quarantine was imposed.

Dublin and Amsterdam are both down by an average of 75%. London's decrease is more akin to Los Angeles (down 52%) and Sydney (down 49%) than many other European capitals.

Here’s a table ranking major world capitals – where data is available – from the highest to the lowest average drop in pedestrian activity since lockdowns began locally:

This comparison is not meant to show whether some cities are better at following orders than others. After all, drops in mobility will be affected by how widespread Covid-19 is, the size of the city, the levels of mobility before lockdown, different lockdown rules and even what kind of jobs people do there. Because this data reflects requests for walking directions, it may also reveal more about walking behavior for certain kinds of trips – to unfamiliar places, for example – than it does about walking for recreation or for more routine, familiar destinations.

For example, there are 16 defined reasons one might be allowed to leave their house in Sydney, including going to school or attending a wedding. In Los Angeles, people are allowed to go out only for essential travel, to get food and health supplies or to look after family and friends.

What the data does show is the sheer extent to which major cities – which rely on free movement to function – have been frozen by virus-related lockdowns.

Nicu Calcea is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group.


What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.

Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

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