The SquareMileTrack has been developed with due consideration to pedestrian footfall, and the need to reduce any potential conflict between runners and pedestrians. The Draft City Plan 2040 (the statutory development strategy prepared by the City of London Corporation) includes a model of morning peak pedestrian density, which has been overlaid with the suggested route for the track to identify any areas of potential conflict (refer. pedestrian density map). The route is in the west area of the City where pedestrian density is lower than the east, particularly on the Barbican Podium which has the least used public footpaths in the City, and the under-utilised pedestrian tunnel linking Thames Path to the north side of Queen Victoria Street. Narrow alleyways are avoided, with most of the route on wide footways. There are several busier sections along approximately 600m of the route including New Bridge Street, the first section of Farringdon Street, the Grand Arcade, and short sections of Charterhouse Street, Aldersgate Street and the Cheapside crossing. Otherwise the route is not congested and will on average increase the Pedestrian Comfort Level as runners discover the City's open spaces such as the Barbican Podium.
It is observed that most runners avoid rush hours and peak periods when choosing a time to leave their office or home for a run. However, it is inevitable that they will encounter pedestrians, and that pedestrians will also use the track as well as regular footways. From the experience of other urban running tracks, runners give way to pedestrians if there is any congestion. Westminster Council has not received any complaints relating to conflicts between runners and walkers in their Embankment Garden Fitness Tracks – and observation of the Thames Pathway shows that runners and walkers are adept at navigating shared space. Running tracks may even serve to reduce potential conflict by indicating a clearer and safer route than an unmarked footpath, and certainly the level of conflict between runners and pedestrians is considerably less than that involving cyclists, who travel at much greater speed.
The City of London Air Quality Strategy 2019-2024 outlines the steps we are taking to achieve better air quality in the Square Mile, and the proposed running track will be a tangible statement in support of this Strategy. At present, the only portion of the route other than road crossings that has PM2.5 ug/m-3 above the WHO limit is the 240m of footway of New Bridge Street from the exit of the pedestrian tunnel to Ludgate Circus. In 2018, the recorded level was 16, while the safe limit is 10. Within a decade particulate matter PM10 and PM2.5 in the City will be within WHO limits. In the meantime, there is an alternative route with cleaner air parallel to New Bridge Street using Blackfriars Lane, Waithmain Street and stairs.
The SquareMileTrack has been developed with reference to research by Imperial College and others on the tradeoffs of physical exercise in urban air quality.
The City of London aims to maintain a level of dignity for any development in order to fully respect its historic setting. For example, there is no corporate advertising above ground level even on single tenant buildings, and the footway surface in the Square Mile is York stone paving in conservation areas and around key listed buildings, with mastic asphalt elsewhere. This consistent look and feel within the built landscape is stipulated in the Public Realm Manual and supported by Historic England and Transport for London.
We need to give close consideration for how an urban running track for the City, embedded in footpaths, will be compatible with the established look and feel. At the most basic level, track material can be coloured to match York stone, and still be visible for runners and pedestrians. Any proposals, and full design justification, will need to be presented to the City of London Common Council for approval, with Members also approving any revisions to the Public Realm Manual.
It is proposed that the construction of the SquareMileTrack be included as part of footway works already planned through to 2030, which collectively make up nearly 60% of the proposed route. These works include the public realm of the relocated London Museum, public realm of refurbished Smithfield, replacement of the Barbican Podium tiles, walking improvements to the footways of Peter's Hill (part of the route from Millennium Bridge to Culture Mile), walking improvements to West Smithfield (part of the 'Culture Spine') and enhancements to the pedestrian route between Blackfriars Bridge and Millennium Bridge.
By taking this approach, the incremental cost of installing sections of soft-surface track along up to 60% of the route will be sufficiently low to be funded by the Community Infrastructure Levy Neighbourhood Fund. The cost of the remaining 40% of the track, which includes sections around St Pauls Cathedral, and how this might be funded, needs to be determined. It is possible some sections may not be built if funds cannot be secured. However, the SquareMileTrack can still proceed, with directional signage and footway markings incorporated along hard sections to complete the loop. It is felt that if a significant portion of the route is on a smooth surface, then it will be robustly used by runners and walkers.
In considering the most appropriate surface material for a running track, reference is made to a report by the City of London Director of the Built Environment, Highway Operations, relating to footways in Sweden made from recycled rubber tyres, which are intended to be safer for pedestrians who trip and fall. The conclusion of the report is that rubber-based footway surfacing is over three times more expensive than York stone, making it uneconomic to use except in narrowly defined circumstances. Nevertheless the City will trial using recycled materials such as rubber or plastic within the bitumen mix for road asphalt.
British Athletics have also published an overview of specialized rubber-based surfaces designed for running. The synthetic material can be laid in-situ to be porous or non-porous, or prefabricated which is non-porous. Where there is low pedestrian density using porous material laid on macadam (crushed rock) will decrease storm water surge, which is anticipated to be a growing problem with climate change causing more frequent downpours. Building footway surfaces with climate resilience is part of the Climate Action Strategy. In addition, such surfaces can be used as a medium for information or art, which may support aspirations for sections of the route that overlap with Culture Mile.
There are advantages associated with this material when used on a pedestrian tile roof such the Barbican Podium. The track can be coloured to match new replacement tiles, preserving the look of this listed Grade 2 landscape. It will generate significantly less footfall noise compared to the existing tiled surface, and will decrease long-term wear and tear on replacement tiles. The suggested location of the track on the Barbican Podium is not adjacent to buildings with ground floor flats, and it will improve the waymarkings around the Podium. The track surface will provide a less slippery walkway during rain, and unlike the tiles does not need to be gritted during periods of winter freeze. Soft-surface material already exists on the Barbican estate, with the children's playground at the edge of Thomas More Residents Garden finished with synthetic rubber.