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Journey complete: 'Pedestrians in Peoria' finish their traverse of all 1,639 city streets

Mary Hosbrough (left) and Jennifer Jacobsen-Wood are the Pedestrians in Peoria.
Pedestrians in Peoria
Mary Hosbrough (left) and Jennifer Jacobsen-Wood are the Pedestrians in Peoria.

You may know Mary Hosbrough and Jennifer Jacobsen-Wood as the "Pedestrians in Peoria." Over the last 23 months, the two lifelong friends walked 1,247.4 miles to cover each of the city's 1,639 streets.

That journey across Peoria was documented throughout on social media. But it began with a map — and the monotony of always walking the same roads.

"We started doing longer and longer walks in Peoria as we were training for longer and longer races. But we would walk the same routes all the time. We were getting kind of bored and seeing just the same things," Hosbrough said. "And then Jennifer had a brilliant idea."

"I went to a visit to public works," Jacobsen-Wood added. "And we saw the snowplow maps the group iris with that mapped out the entire city. So I thought we should walk all the streets instead of the same route over and over again, for the variety. And it's amazing how you could live someplace for about 50 years, and there's parts of Peoria I had never seen."

Tim Shelley / Pedestrians in Peoria

The friends used the website CityStrides to chart their progress. It wasn't necessarily the most efficient route, with some routes repeated. But Jacobsen-Wood said getting in longer mileage and just having fun were the real goals of the adventure.

"There was always something unexpected that we would see, like we didn't really know what was in each area," Hosbrough said, noting there was usually something interesting to research and write about after each walk.

"We're lucky that a lot of people have put those plaques on rocks in different places of Peoria, and that sometimes gave us a starting point. Also, in the older parts of the city, a lot of the streets are named after people, so then that was a way to start researching," Jacobsen-Wood said.

The amount of greenery across the city was one thing that surprised both women.

"Any place we went, we saw nature. And that was one of the big things, because you think of our furious being this urban city," said Jacobsen-Wood. "But no matter where we were, even if we were downtown, South Side, East Bluff, there's so many green areas and small parks and areas of woods. And flowers. I think we have more flower pictures of flowers than anything else."

"I don't think either one of us even really liked flowers that much before we started this," Hosbrough added.

Readers of the "Pedestrians in Peoria" page regularly contributed knowledge of their own, from local history to information on the flora encountered.

Hosbrough and Jacobsen-Wood agree the South Side was their favorite part of the city to explore.

"People asked us, they were curious there and they asked us questions. A lot more people were outside a lot of the time," said Jacobsen-Wood.

Malvern Lane off Moss Avenue was another favorite. Tucked behind Westminster Presbyterian Church, the roadway is closed off to vehicular traffic.

"It was just incredibly unique and beautiful. There were wildflowers. We went there a few different times. There was always different wildflowers, and a lot of street art that's painted on along a cement wall there," said Hosbrough.

As the city of Peoria continues to annex new land and expand, there will be new roads to explore. In the meantime, Hosbrough and Jacobsen-Wood plan to explore the area's hiking trails.

They may also have some new company on the streets. A man inspired by the Pedestrians in Peoria is now making a CityStrides journey of his own, with 30 percent of the byways traversed so far.

"He's in third place for having done the most streets in Peoria. He's 81 years old. And so he's getting out and walking the streets. And I was just like, that is so cool," Hosbrough said.

Jacobsen-Wood said the Internet can leave one with a bad impression of Peoria. But by actually getting out into the city, she said that doesn't reflect reality at all.

"I think the thing that we really noticed is when we would stop and talk to people, no matter who we spoke to, they all said that they loved their neighborhood, which and they love their neighbors," she said. "And if you just spend time reading things about purely on social media, that's not the impression that you get. A lot of people are very negative. And what we realize ... there is violence in Peoria and not everybody has the same experience that we have. A lot of people do. There's a lot to love about Peoria."

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.