With the help of funding from a Community-Based Budgeting Project created by two city councillors, Eugene Chen has added more than 500 kilometres of bike paths to Google Street View. Now he is hoping to keep the project going by enlisting the help of community groups and volunteers.
Chen received $2,000 from the budgeting project, created by Coun. Keren Tang of Karhiio and Coun. Andrew Knack of Nakota Isga, to take the photos and videos needed to add community bike paths in those wards in Google Street View. The funding helped cover the cost of the camera, but with the price of the equipment and additional expenses, he has spent closer to $3,500, kicking in the balance himself to get the project off the ground.
"I've had the idea for a few years now, but going out and spending even a grand on something that may or may not work is significant, and when I received approval of the grant, knowing that someone else in the community liked my idea and was willing to take a risk on me ... gave me enough confidence and reason to give it a really strong shot," Chen told Taproot. "Because of the grant, I was willing to take the further risk of extra costs over the current funding."
With the trails in Nakota Isga and Karhiio completed and already getting over a million views, Chen has plans to keep the project going. Knowing how much time it would take one person to cover the thousands of remaining bike path kilometres, he is looking for ways to involve other people in the project.
At the BetaCityYEG Meetup on Nov. 30, Chen will be sharing his story, talking about possible next steps, and collecting feedback from attendees on what else could be done.
"I think this is the point where I ask for community help and recommendations and suggestions," he said. "I think many people will be interested in contributing. And I would be more than happy for them to do so."
He hopes to involve organizations like Paths for People and Bike Edmonton, who "would likely have ideas on how to take a project like this and make it more accessible for other people to participate and engage in."
The process of covering the bike paths was more arduous than just going for a cruise with the camera, Chen said. Because he doesn't live in the neighbourhoods he initially covered, he spent hours driving to the edge of the city and doing work remotely to avoid losing time on return trips.
"I would spend hours at a McDonald's or something where my scooter was getting charged outside. And I was in the car waiting for hours for my scooter to finish charging, so I could go for trip No. 2," he said.
"I ended up treating it like a job. And it felt like a job because it's different than just casually scooting around and just enjoying yourself," said Chen. "I spent, I would say, 50% of my time while I'm scooting looking down on my phone trying to figure out the next path."
Chen is no stranger to harnessing the power of data for the delight and use of citizens. Among many projects, he co-created This is Edmonton, a tool to compare the city's neighbourhoods based on census data.
Chen's project was one of more than 23 projects proposed as part of a test of participatory budgeting, a collaboration between the two councillors as well as Islamic Family Social Services Association, Ribbon Rouge Foundation, BetaCityYEG, and the David Suzuki Foundation.