Who runs New York?
This guy. Or, at least, he did all of Manhattan.
At the end of 2022, Jason Girouard, 28, stepped out of his Lower East Side apartment in his running shoes and, unknown to him at the time, kicked off a personal endeavor to jog every street on the island. About one year and 750 miles later, he all but completed the task on Dec. 19.
That was no coincidence. The date holds special significance in the annals of Manhattan sojourners. A former Navy commander named Thomas Keane finished traversing the grid and untangling the twisted streets of Lower Manhattan on Dec. 19, 1954, according to a New York Times piece from the time.
Fifty years later, on Dec. 19, 2004, Columbia University librarian Caleb Smith completed the same project, which he detailed on his website.
Girouard, 28, says he drew inspiration from his predecessors, but he didn’t initially set out to become a street grid completionist. He said he just got bored trudging up and down the Westside Highway while training for an ultramarathon and decided to start exploring. First came every street in SoHo, followed by the West Village and the East Village.
“Then I thought, you know, I might as well do all of Lower Manhattan,” Girouard said. “And then the rest of Manhattan isn’t too far away, so I might as well do that, too.”
He said he began searching online to see if others had embarked on similar missions, and that’s where he discovered Keane, Smith and a few others who documented their goals.
Girouard tracked his route using location data from the Strava app and logged it in a map he later animated and posted online.
He said he traveled the entire island over 73 runs and 120 hours, not including subway trips uptown. He usually hit the streets early in the day.
“Running in the mornings is really nice because you see people’s morning commutes,” he said. “You see all the people taking their kids to school.”
A running tour through history
He invited Gothamist to accompany him as he “cleaned up” one of five tiny streets he realized he had missed: the block-long Lillian Wald Drive in the East Village. Call it accountability journalism.
“When you’re 99% complete, you just need to get to 100%,” he said.
The run on a chilly Wednesday morning earlier this month captured how Girouard, a Massachusetts native, turned the project into a year-long course on New York City’s rich history.
Lilian Wald, the namesake of the short street and nearby public housing complex, was a nurse who founded Henry Street Settlement in 1893 to aid the neighborhood’s low-income residents. Girouard said learning about her led him to research the settlement house movement of the late-19th Century.
He said he frequently followed up his runs with further reading, like when he spotted symbols hinting at the Jewish roots of the Lower East Side or when he passed the “country” estate of Alexander Hamilton on West 141th Street and the Gilded Age mansion of James Bailey, of Barnum and Bailey’s circus fame, on West 150th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue.
And of course, there were the iconic film locations, including the firehouse from Ghostbusters in Tribeca: “Stumbling upon that was a nice surprise,” he said.
Along the way, Girouard said he marveled at the giant tags by the street artist JET, mentally cataloged the vintage signs above local businesses and got to know Manhattan’s unique greenspaces, like Inwood Hill Park in the northernmost reaches of the borough.
He ran through heat waves, bundled up in cold snaps and navigated the confusing layout south of City Hall.
The toughest places to run? The Financial District and Morningside Heights, but for different reasons, he said.
FiDi “is just so winding so it’s hard to know the most efficient route,” he said. “Mathematically, there has to be a most efficient route, but it definitely does not feel like you’re running it.”
Meanwhile, he hit hilly Morningside Heights in July, when temperatures approached 100 degrees.
“People cracked open fire hydrants, cooling themselves off and I ran through it,” he said. “It was great.”
Construction and street closures
Then there were the unforeseen construction projects and street closures that complicated the mission and forced him to double back, sometimes six months later.
He said he couldn’t quite get to one block next to Con Edison’s East River generating station near East 14th Street.
“I tried to convince the security guards to let me in by pulling on their heartstrings and telling them about this story, but they weren’t convinced,” he said.
As for favorite neighborhood, Girouard said he could never pick one part of his adopted city.
“Each area has something that surprises you,” he said.
The journey allowed Girouard to join an exclusive siblinghood of passionate, slightly compulsive, New Yorkers who have made it their mission to see as much of Manhattan, and sometimes every other borough, as possible. The projects have inspired others.
After Smith, the Columbia librarian, died in 2013, his friends honored him with a memorial walk recalling his journey around Manhattan.
“It was an attempt by a transplant, an outsider, to describe, understand, and know his habitat, and what better way to do so than via the body and its senses,” they wrote on a tribute website. “What better way to know every stoop, lamppost, diner, park bench, and building than through the deliberate process of walking, and thus literally connecting with the inhabited city.”
The Times rhapsodized about Kean’s quest across the island in a 1954 editorial, writing that they could “not imagine many activities more fulfilling.”
Many more miles to travel
Others have gone even farther. Matt Green walked every street in the entire city and mapped the nearly 10-year, 9,300-mile effort on his website.
“The excitement of New York, and the whole world for that matter, is that there’s always something else to see, and something else to learn, no matter how long you’ve been around,” he wrote.
City College sociology professor William Helmreich also set out to experience every street in the entire city by foot for his “New York Nobody Knows” book series. He made it across Manhattan twice before walking all of the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island — a distance of more than 6,100 miles. Helmreich died in 2020.
“He called NYC the greatest outdoor museum in the world,” his wife Helaine Helmreich told Gothamist. “And walking is the best way to really see a city. If you’re in a car or on a bike you just whizz by and don’t see all the unusual and different things you’d never spot otherwise.”
She said she accompanied him on many of his walks, including every excursion through the Bronx. The effort turned her into a keen observer.
She said she spotted intricate flowers carved into a Bronx sidewalk by an apartment building’s artistic super and ventured into a store selling spy equipment — like a dummy can of Comet soap with a hidden camera inside — on Northern Boulevard in Queens.
“I learned how to look at every single thing in the street to find something new and unusual,” she said.
As for Girouard, he said he’s plotting his next running project.
During his jog with Gothamist earlier this month, he stopped at a crosswalk on Delancey Street. A few blocks away, the Williamsburg Bridge stretched across the East River.
“It’ll be tempting to say yes to the rest of Brooklyn,” he said. “But Brooklyn’s much bigger.”