Google Lane View?

Post by Mike Klassen in


Beam me up, Scotty! Google's Street View ducks down several Vancouver back alleys

When I attended Google's media event this week I heard the company's representative state, "Street View images are only taken from public streets." I took that to mean that I'd only be able to see homes and buildings from in front, where building addresses exist. Private property, and developments with roadways not managed by the City of Vancouver were off limits.

I also didn't think that the Street View project, with the immense amount of ground it needs to cover, would be taking images of Vancouver's back alleys.

Some of what makes Vancouver residential neighbourhoods is our grid pattern street system, and the presence of laneways behind homes. This way things like garbage collection and off-street parking & driveways are not visible from in front. Nothing to me is more depressing and ugly are great big two-car garage doors plunked in front of the house, cutting off homes from their street. Vancouver's back alleys help to avoid this, although they move the problem into our laneways (where we propose people live now).

Google Street View is a marvel, but it is not without its glitches. I decided to "drive" down streets in my neighbourhood using Street View, but was surprised when I was suddenly transported, a la Star Trek, into the back lane.

One example is 1000-block East 28th Avenue (photo above). Start at either end of that block, and click the arrows. Suddenly about half-way along the block you're staring at the gravel surface of the back lane, and the backyards of several homes.

700-block East 28th – View Larger Map

Now, you'd think that if the street was obstructed, and your GSV driver was on a tight deadline, they'd find alternate routes to finish the image mapping. But there is no apparent blockage on the street to force them into the alleys.

Go a little further up the street, to 700-block East 28th Avenue. You can see from the image on each end of that block the street is clear of traffic, but travel along it and you're suddenly traveling down the lane. Vancouver allows six-foot high fences in the rear of their properties, but because the Street View cameras are mounted much higher, we're afforded much better views of these properties than someone walking down the lane.

So it's interesting to consider if this is just a data glitch, or if the driver contracted to record the streets just somehow got lost. Have Google recorded many of Vancouver's back alleys on purpose, or only sampled a few? While I doubt this has anything to do with the City's Laneway Housing initiative, it does raise further questions about how detailed these recordings of our communities will be, and what constitutes "private" and "public" views of our world.


I was also surprised that the blurring of faces wasn't consistent.
I couldn't figure how to capture an image, but just one example - if you go to the corner of Denman and Davie, approaching from the Davie side, there's a guy waiting on the NE corner who's definitely not blurry.

I also spotted a lady on my street whose face was not blurred. On the backyard topic, people tend to leave more valuables in the back than they do in the front (tools, BBQs, etc.) on the idea that they are not easy to see over the fence.

Now with Google Lane View, someone could see these things, making them more vulnerable to theft. Maybe I'm exaggerating - I don't know. I'd like to know what others think.

I checked it out and I also popped into alleys around my place, weird.

My back lane is also captured by Google. With our house set back on the property, the cameras were almost in our living room.

Check out!

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