New York: Using an elaborate camera system, Google Maps has begun documenting Central Park's 58 miles of pathways for online strolling.
It was, in fact, Google's Trike, a panoramic camera system with nine lenses mounted on an oversize tricycle. The company, which already offers 360-degree street-level views of New York City and other cities, has turned its attention to parks, as well as other locations inaccessible by car. The Trike has been wheeling through hard-to-reach places across the globe, mapping them and then offering online Street View tours on Google Maps that let the would-be parkgoer mouse-click along a path.
Two weeks ago, the High Line was added to Google's digital archive, along with Clearview Park Golf Course in Queens, Dyker Beach Park in Brooklyn and Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. They joined parks in 21 other countries, from Kensington Gardens in London to Koganei Park in Tokyo.
Central Park had its star turn on Monday, when a team of cyclists began the job of maneuvering the Trike along 58 miles of paths. The leaves were in full splendor as the camera lenses captured vistas in all directions, snapping meadows and playgrounds, monuments and ball fields, as well as the occasional squirrel.
The Central Park Conservancy, which manages the park for the city, last year introduced a smartphone app dedicated to the city's 843-acre flagship. The app already relies on Google Maps, and the conservancy says the app will automatically incorporate the new photographs as it helps people plan the quickest route from one attraction to another. By seducing them with online images, conservancy officials also hope to nudge visitors to explore the less crowded northern half of the park.
"We have 38 million visitors a year, and we're always looking for ways to enhance their experience," said Douglas Blonsky, the conservancy's president. "The north end has some of the most beautiful sections of the park, like the Cascades, the North Woods and Harlem Meer."
A publicist for Google who accompanied the Trike in Central Park would not say when the photographic simulation would go online, but it took several months for the company to add the High Line, which was photographed in the spring.
Indeed, the Trike was treated with utmost secrecy. The publicist would not allow the trio of pedalers to speak to reporters about their experience. (One Trike pilot, who was drenched with sweat, managed to say, "The hills are getting to me.") Nor would she say how many days it would take them to document the park, how long their shifts lasted or how the cameras worked.
Dena Libner, a spokeswoman for the conservancy, said Google had indicated that it would take two to three days to complete the photography.
The Trike is part of a larger fleet used by Google Maps to collect images, which includes cars, snowmobiles and an even smaller vehicle, called a Street View Trolley, that can navigate inside museums.
The High Line, the mile-long park converted from an elevated rail bed, has garnered international attention. So perhaps it is no surprise that the Street View feature on Google Maps would satisfy a certain curiosity. "It doesn't replace the experience, but it helps people understand what it's like up there," said Robert Hammond, a co-founder of Friends of the High Line.
But even frequent visitors to Central Park said they might just click their way to a favorite spot from the comfort of an armchair once in a while. "I have a funny back, and I sometimes can't do the long distances," said Cathy O'Connor, a 64-year-old administrator who is partial to the northwest section. "It would be nice to just see it on my computer."
Story first published:
November 15, 2011 12:22 IST