Teri Towner, Coquitlam, B.C.
As all runners know, by far the best way to explore a place is on foot. You’re moving slowly enough to notice your surroundings, and you get to experience the sights, the smells, the sounds and the people. This idea is familiar to Coquitlam, B.C., runner and city councillor Teri Towner, who embarked on a challenge to run every street in her city – more than 1,100 of them, covering 1,100 kilometres – during the pandemic. Over a period of eight months, she covered every street, cul-de-sac, gravel road and major artery in the city. Run-every-street challenges began to surface about three years ago with professional ultrarunner Rickey Gates. Gates’s first Every Single Street project took place in San Francisco, where he lived before relocating to Santa Fe, N.M., last year (where he also soon began running every single street). He has since mounted similar projects in at least four other cities. With no races to anchor their training, runners like Towner are starting challenges in their own locales, and, like Gates, are fostering deeper connections with their communities as a result.
Towner’s challenge started slowly. When she imported her new Strava account’s data into CityStrides.com (a program that was developed to facilitate this very thing), she was credited with about 350 km of streets already travelled, but still had around 750 km to go. She began one day in August 2020, turning right at each junction, running a giant loop and filling in the streets. Running about four and a half hours a week, she completed Coquitlam in March, and has now moved on to Port Moody. She plans to run every street in Port Coquitlam next, to round out the Lower Mainland’s Tri-Cities.
While Towner embraced the project mostly for fun, it has also been an act of community service. A city councillor since 2014, she observed things that prompted her to raise issues at council, such as pedestrian-safe streets and food security. For example, garbage day in older neighbourhoods is particularly unwelcoming, with missing sidewalks and perpendicular parking limiting sight lines. She also discovered that a number of city-owned parcels of land were slated for development, but she knew they could support community gardens in the short-term. “We’re in a pandemic. Food security is a big issue,” she says. “It’s something I’m very passionate about.” She’d like to see council “get creative” and use the land, even if it’s temporary.
While change has been underway for a few years, it’s slow to take hold. Older neighbourhoods without sidewalks and with perpendicular parking are getting made over to include safe, car-free space for pedestrians, as well as better sightlines, thanks to parallel parking.
In addition to challenges, Towner also saw many displays of community spirit. During the holiday seasons, she’d try to hit streets with known Halloween or Christmas displays, stopping frequently to snap photos.
Towner plans on taking a break from the streets once the challenge wraps up, but she won’t be gone for long. “I’m just getting obsessed. ‘I’ll just do one more little cul-desac,’” she says, “or, ‘Oh, I’ll just do one more street.’ It’s a really fun challenge.”