More than 400 kilometres of bike trails in Winnipeg will soon be available on Google Street View, thanks to a joint initiative by the Winnipeg Trails Association and the global tech giant.
Since mid-July, analysts for the trails association have been riding a recumbent tricycle around the city with Google’s 360-degree camera device in tow. As it rolls, multiple cameras snap thousands of images, which are then to be stitched together and digitally processed to create a panoramic representation of Winnipeg’s bike trails and paths — an element previously missing from the city’s Street View capabilities.
Anders Swanson, trails association executive director, said the project has been in the works since last winter, when a Google representative asked if they would be interested in taking part.
"Not sure how they found us," Swanson laughed on Monday. "But they’re Google, so presumably they know everything."
A few months later, Google loaned the camera, along with a custom aluminum mount for the bike, to the trails association. On Aug. 17, the company’s two-month loan of its equipment will come to an end, and with more than a week to go, about half of the total trails the association hoped to traverse have been accounted for.
The camera has been pedalled around by five trails association staffers, and later this week, about 10 volunteers will act as chauffeurs for the apparatus.
Google’s technology has been used to map out other Manitoba trail areas. Last year, Elk Glen, located near Riding Mountain National Park, and Fort Ellice were mapped out by the Trekker, a backpack mechanism with the camera mounted on top, Swanson said. Several other parts of Canada, including Banff and Cape Breton national parks and more than 1,500 kilometres of British Columbia have been documented by the Trekker, as well.
Marina Herscovitch, a trails analyst who rode the tricycle around the North End on Monday morning, believes the Street View availability will promote Winnipeg’s trails and hopefully get more people actively exploring the city.
Swanson sees other potential benefits, mainly to city planning.
He said he thinks having more dynamic and full visuals readily available will put an emphasis on the importance of walking and cycling trails in future developments around Winnipeg.
"(Trails) are massively important to city planning," he said. "This could ease the workload of many people looking to make the city more bikeable and walkable."
He said he doesn’t think the project makes the city directly more bikeable, but Swanson is optimistic it will make more people notice the importance of trails in the urban landscape.
Once the project concludes, the images will be available online in the next six to 12 months, Herscovitch estimates.