Cruise the Chicago River from the Comfort of Your Home

Google Street View caught the Michigan Avenue Bridge opening for boat traffic. (Google Street View)

It’s now possible to sail down the Chicago River during the dead of winter in your pajamas – without catching hypothermia.

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That’s because Web users can now view panoramic images from the Chicago River via Google Street View.

Other well-known waterways granted this honor include the Thames, Seine and Hudson rivers.

The project was initiated by Kevin Hartman, Friends of the Chicago River board member and head of analytics at Google.

“I raised the idea to the Google Maps team about three years ago,” Hartman said. “They were very interested in it, but with so many projects in the queue, it took a while for it to happen.”

On what he called a “beautiful, clear autumn day” in October, Hartman and two Google Maps employees set out on the river in a boat equipped with a 360-degree camera. It was a long day.

Kevin Hartman, center, and two Google Maps team members recorded 360-degree photo bursts of the Chicago River in October. (Friends of the Chicago River)

“We were out there for close to 10 hours,” Hartman said. “The team filled up a capture hard drive and had to swap it out, which doesn’t happen often.”

You can view the boat’s-eye view of the Chicago River by dragging the Google Maps icon into the river or by clicking here to start your virtual voyage from Navy Pier.

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Hartman and his crew covered a lot of water. Google’s camera shot panoramic images of the entire main stem of the Chicago River, the North Branch up to the North Avenue Turning Basin and the South Branch down to Bubbly Creek, which borders the Bridgeport neighborhood to the west.

Hartman said the beautiful weather brought plenty of spectators to the river. This delayed the project somewhat since Google blurs out each person’s face for privacy reasons. A face-detecting algorithm is used to do this, but Hartman says faces must also be checked manually, which takes time.

The hard work paid off, though, since now “anyone around the world with access to a computer or mobile device can view the beauty that is the Chicago River,” said Hartman.

“The digital images are intense,” he added. “People can see every bit of detail.”

This northern view was taken from the South Branch of the Chicago River. The Willis Tower, located roughly four miles from this point, can be seen in the distance. (Google Street View)

Hartman said the Google Maps team was very happy with the images they captured. They plan to update the river’s Street View regularly.

Friends of the Chicago River hopes the images will show how environmental efforts like their catfish project have rehabilitated the waterways over time.

Follow Evan Garcia on Twitter: @EvanRGarcia


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