Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Meet Tom Seven, who ran every single street in the city of Pittsburgh

Tom Murphy VII smiles while wearing his yellow PacMan costume with a working mouth.
Tom Seven
Tom Murphy VII, aka "Tom Seven," embarks on his final run in his quest to run every Pittsburgh street in 2022. He created this PacMac outfit for the occasion and was later chased by "ghosts" on Mt. Washington.

Many people run through the streets of Pittsburgh. But what about running all of them? That was the goal and eventual accomplishment of Thomas Walter Murphy VII, or, as he prefers, “Tom Seven.”

Tom came to Pittsburgh in the 1990s to attend Carnegie Mellon University and said back then, he felt like he wasn’t really exploring the city. So one day, he decided to venture further from campus.

“I realized there's a lot to see, a lot of interesting stuff: Industrial ruins, history, people that are different from me, beautiful secret views, little hidden parks in the woods,” he said.

Tom Murphy VII
The first official run route by Tom, as part of his years-long quest to visit every street in Pittsburgh.

In 2006, he set his goal of running every Pittsburgh street, and began with a jog through parts of the East End, including Shadyside, Bloomfield, Point Breeze and Squirrel Hill. As he continued to pursue the project, he set rules for himself, including running in what he calls “expert mode.”

“This is where I'm always starting or ending at my home in Shadyside. Which meant that as I got to very distant places, I would have to run 20-30 miles at a time. Just to get to new streets, run them and come back.”

Tom says to tackle the roughly 1,500 miles of Pittsburgh streets, he went on 269 runs, totaling 3,663.1 miles. Sometimes if he was on a long run and had already been on a street, he’d allow himself to walk. And if he got injured, he’d take the bus home. He also didn’t run in dangerous situations, so highways were usually out of the question.

“‘What is a road?’ is one of the top topics that I'm thinking about as I'm running because there are so many things. [For example,] Pittsburgh has all of these staircases that have street signs. They're fascinating. I love them. And of course, I try to go on those because they're some of the best stuff we've got,” Tom said. “But I don't count those as like roads because sometimes you just can't get on them.”

How did he keep track of where he had run? When he started 16 years ago, GPS watches and other smart devices weren’t really a thing.

“Cell phones, we didn’t have cell phones, smart phones. That’s how long ago we’re talking. There were not that many options,” he said. “Google Earth was one of the only packages out there that could show you the whole map and load a GPS thing from a GPS watch, which was an exotic device.”

Eventually, being a computer scientist and whiz at this kind of visualization, Tom said he built his own code. But for any runners who aren’t computer scientists, he said there are plenty of apps people can download.

While exploring, Tom said he loved finding things that weren’t necessarily on maps, like the abandoned overturned ship on the Allegheny River or hidden trails that led to spectacular views.

You can see some of these sites and other adventures in a YouTube video. The full map of all of his runs are there, and he goes into some other peculiarities about the city, including encountering “trap” streets. These are fake streets placed into maps by mapmakers.

“These don’t bother you if you’re looking for directions. You’re like, ‘I’m not going to go on that dead end, I don’t care.’ But if you’re trying to run all the streets, then you find that they’re not there,” he said. “But the idea is that if somebody copies the map and copies this fake street, then you know that they copied off of you. So those are a constant annoyance.”

Tom Murphy VII
Tom's last run from Shadyside to Mt. Washington.

After 16 years and about 20 pairs of sneakers, Tom completed his final run in 2022. As for advice for people who want to start their own big projects?

“I think my number one piece of advice, though, is get yourself in a little over your head. Right. So making a commitment like to your friends, Hey, I'm going to do this thing. Then they're going to give you a little bit of a hard time if you don't.” Yes, he acknowledges that running is hard. But he says physical activity is important.

“I feel more productive in my intellectual tasks when I’m not sedentary. So, do both.”

Katie Blackley is a digital editor/producer for 90.5 WESA and 91.3 WYEP, where she writes, edits and generates both web and on-air content for features and daily broadcast. She's the producer and host of our Good Question! series and podcast. She also covers history and the LGBTQ community.