If you live in Salt Lake City, Bryant Heath ran by your house this year.
If you work in Salt Lake City, Heath ran by your place of business. If you worship in Salt Lake City, he ran by your church. Your school, favorite grocery store, the gas station you usually stop by, your bank, your favorite park. He’s seen them all.
This man — 35 years old, an engineer by trade — might know all of Salt Lake City better than anyone.
That’s because Heath took on a crazy project in this crazy year: Running largely on nights and weekends, he decided to run every bit of every street in Salt Lake City. Crazily enough, he did it, finishing up this week, well in advance of his self-imposed New Years’ Eve deadline.
OK, sure, there were some reasonable exceptions. It’s illegal to run on interstates. He didn’t intrude in gated neighborhoods with no-trespassing signs. He couldn’t run on streets blocked off due to construction, either. And he skipped a few streets blocked off by private businesses — streets that showed up on Heath’s maps but were fenced off to the public.
But other than that, Heath traveled them all, one by one, step by step. What drove him to do this? Curiosity.
Heath moved to Utah from Texas in 2010, and he’s lived above the Capitol and near Sugar House Park as a resident. But he realized he rarely went outside of those neighborhoods.
“Wow, I’ve never been to about three-quarters of the entire city before‚ and I’ve been here for 10 years. That was very sobering,” Heath told The Salt Lake Tribune. “And I was like, ‘I need to go out and explore a little bit more.’” That, and he figured a concrete goal would push him toward more consistency — Heath described himself as an on-again, off-again runner before this experience.
So he laced them up and hit the road. He started near his home and worked his way outward. Each day, he would look at his map, zoom in to a portion of the grid he hadn’t ran before, and print out a neighborhood. He’d draw his planned route by hand, and then Heath would head to his self-assigned starting point.
Here’s a time-lapse video of Heath’s project. Created from data tracked by Heath’s Garmin Fenix 3 HR, then sped up by a factor of 5,000, the video shows the scope of what he accomplished.
So, too, do the numbers: 994 miles over the course of 118 sessions. Overall, Heath kept up an impressive pace of about 8:03 minutes per mile. He gained 37,379 feet in elevation. He skipped all of September due to a knee tweak but buckled down with a stretch of 10 straight days in December to wrap it all up. All in all, he traveled down 1,435 city streets.
What did Heath learn from his tour of Utah’s capital city? Let’s look at some of the highlights.
Heath’s favorite runs
When I asked about Heath’s favorites, he mentioned two neighborhoods that he really enjoyed running in, one on the east side and one on the west side.
Heath ran in the Highland Park neighborhood near the beginning of this project in early January. But even months later, he remembers the “old growth trees,” the “super bikable” Stratford Avenue, and the general appeal of the area.
The weather was very different when he ran in Rose Park on Aug. 7, but he loved that area, too. “These parks are there, the golf course, the Frisbee golf course, and then there’s easy access to that Jordan River Trail. Those are great, great, great areas. I loved it.”
Most challenging run — west of Capitol Hill
At 10 miles, this August run was just over Heath’s average. But there were a few reasons this wasn’t necessarily the most appealing route.
“There were super confusing streets; there’s no easy way to route them, and it’s super steep on some of them ... And then not only that, but then you get west of 300, and it’s very industrial.”
The longest run — and a memorable one
Heath’s longest run came in November, when he completed a 14.4-mile square loop around the Salt Lake County Landfill and neighboring areas. He didn’t expect it to be an interesting one, but it turned out to be: he didn’t know about the Lee Kay Ponds and associated birding areas.
It’s also home to the Lee Kay Shooting Range — another attribute Heath didn’t know about. “I started going down that road and then I started hearing gunfire. And I’m just thinking, ‘What’s going on over here? And so that’s why I looped back maybe a little bit more prematurely than probably what I should have.”
The run with the most elevation gain — and the best views
One of Heath’s slowest runs had good reason to be: It was up the side of the Upper Avenues, leading to the beginning of the Terrace Hills trailhead. Overall, he ran nearly 11 miles at a 6.5 mph pace, despite gaining 1,623 feet in elevation.
But the reward was his best view of the tour, especially from Terrace Hills Drive at the top of the run. “Any time of you kind of hit a little open space, it’s just scenic views that are just beautiful.”
Another good view of the city Heath remembered: along Benchmark Drive in the Foothill area. “It’s way, way, way high off a steep hill, and how the street looks, it’s a direct line of sight to downtown. It’s like, boom: Pretty much all you see is the skyscrapers of downtown, which I thought was pretty cool.”
The neighborhood of religious diversity
Heath expected to learn a lot about his city in the course of his year, but he didn’t know to expect what he found in this neighborhood east of the Utah State Fairpark just west of Interstate 15. Within about a block or two of one another, Heath stumbled upon the Summum pyramid, the Maryam Mosque hosting the Utah Islamic Society of Bosniaks, the Tam Bảo Buddhist Temple and Our Lady of Guadeloupe Catholic Church.
“I would constantly just come across interesting things to see,” Heath said. “It just exemplifies the diversity on the west side.”
The airport runs
More running is possible around the Salt Lake City International Airport than you might imagine: It’s possible to run in between the terminals on the north side of the airport, though Heath’s favorite airport-related run was in the farmland and marshes to the northeast, where he saw jack rabbits and enjoyed plane spotting.
But Heath’s final run of the whole SLC tour on Dec. 13 was a sketchy one: Airport officials recommend that people use the airport bike trail. If you want to bike or walk to the airport itself, they suggest turning north onto 3700 West, although pedestrian access to the airport was recently locked down due to construction and now requires a badge — $15 for anyone to buy.
Heath, though, ever the completionist, also ran on the shoulder of the Terminal Drive airport loop — the one that cars use to access the airport for departures and arrivals. Airport officials are strongly against that idea, telling The Tribune: “It is not safe to run on that road and we would discourage it.” Heath says he passed two patrol cars on Terminal Drive but never was stopped during his journey.
Other random encounters:
In the course of running the entire city, Heath had some other interesting happenings:
• He witnessed a car accident near the University of Utah. It was a relatively minor rear-ending, he said.
• He smelled a gas leak near Fremont Avenue and 1100 West — and the firefighters responded minutes later.
• In April, Heath tried to run the streets surrounding the Veterans Affairs medical center but couldn’t because the entire area was fenced off as a coronavirus precaution. He returned to the area in December, when the lockdown was lifted, to complete that part of the run.
• Heath worried that he’d, at some point, have a rough encounter with someone’s dog. But there was only one dog that ever chased him — a chihuahua, and only for a short time. It was “another one of those irrational fears that I had that turned out to not pan out at all,” Heath said. As for more natural wildlife, he encountered a fox near the Regional Athletic Complex fields in the northwest sector, and some deer in the Red Butte area.
I asked Heath, now the expert, about what suggestions he might have for Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall after surveying the city’s streets.
“They added these nice green medians, like on 1200 East leading up to the [U.],” Heath said. “Why don’t they do that for these large streets on the west side? That would be beautiful.” He also pointed out the absurdity of some of Salt Lake City’s wide streets, like 700 South, that have few stoplights and very little traffic — again, a median might improve the visual appeal of the street, which is in need of repair anyway.
But Heath did have praise for Mendenhall in one key aspect: improving the west side’s foliage. Heath reported running for up to four-tenths of a mile without seeing a tree planted in a city-owned park strip on some roads — it would be unusual to see that on the east side. Mendenhall, in April, launched her plan to plant at least 1,000 trees on the west side. Heath would agree with Mendenhall, who reported a “staggering inequity” between the west and east in terms of trees.
Beyond the trees, and the medians, though, Heath wasn’t struck by the differences between communities, but by their similarities.
”People make all of these distinctions with neighborhoods. ‘Oh, they live in Federal Heights, or, oh, I live in Sugar House, or whatever it is,’” Heath mocked. “But when you see the whole city, you realize and appreciate the commonalities.”
“When I started, it was Christmas lights. Then you see it transition to all the political primary signs. And then those cycled through, and you’d have the American flag for Fourth of July, or Pride flags. Then came Halloween decorations, and those were all over every neighborhood. Everyone has kids playing in sprinklers. Everyone has dogs barking on every street corner.”
“We’re more alike than I think we would like to admit to one another,” Heath finished. “And that’s kind of cool to see in real time.”
Andy Larsen is a data columnist. He is also one of The Salt Lake Tribune’s Utah Jazz beat writers. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.