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Professor Robert McMillen, MBA Microsoft Certified Trainer and Solutions Expert

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Biking in Portland using 3D maps

Biking in Portland using 3D maps

Biking in Portland Using 3D Maps
By Robert McMillen, Koin’s Tech Guru
I have been running on a treadmill for many years almost every morning. I do it to stay healthy and keep my lungs clear. Becoming healthy was the main reason for moving to Portland back in 1997. My lung capacity had plummeted into the low 70% range from years of asthma and a collapsed lung from childhood. The Chicago air was just too dirty to breathe. I was having trouble walking to my car without a puff or two from an inhaler.
Years later I am able to run a mile and a half on a treadmill daily, and I have regained almost 20% more lung capacity after moving to the much cleaner air of the Northwest. Running is hard, and can be hard on your joints, but by using a cushy treadmill I was able to avoid issues with ankles and other injuries. The only problem was that it could be boring. Even with a TV setup and MTV rocking away, it has been difficult keeping my mind from telling me to stop when I should keep going. Besides, my wife would kid me to no end every time Fergi, Britney, or whoever would have a video on that I was running and trying to catch them.
So, a few weeks ago I decided to try riding my bike in the morning as the weather got better. I dusted it off, pumped air in the tires and did a trial run in the neighborhood. I didn’t think it would be as good of a workout, but I was wrong. It works a different set of muscles and my legs were on fire when I got back to the house. I went back to running, but I kept the idea open for the future. Then last Sunday my dog ran into my knee cap. I was unable to run without a lot of pain, but I was strangely able to bike without any. So I became one of the many Portland area bicyclists the next day.
Oregon Live says that 17,000 Portlanders bike to work every day, and bikeleague.org says that 6% of area residents claim the bicycle is their main mode of transportation. My concern about biking is safety. I worry about being one of the many statistics where a driver doesn’t pay attention and causes an accident. I started reading online about the Portland biking community and I never expected to hear about such passion of the right to bike safely. We have the bike friendliest city in the country according to virgin-vacations.com. The only city in the world that beats us is Amsterdam.
Now that I am confirmed to be a cyclist while my knee heals and the weather holds, I decided to try mapping out a Beaverton area route where I could safely get a good workout and see the sights. Although there are many websites to aid in my safety bound journey, I went to Google to help me out. Google has a relatively new feature called 3D Maps. Just pop that into your search bar to get it. Rather than downloading a program, you can do 3D Maps in your web browser. Since I use Firefox I had to install a plug-in that went very quickly, and I could now see a 3d world in front of me in my browser.
I typed in my address at the top and it showed my house from a satellite view. Click on the Earth button to go from seeing 2d to 3d whenever you like. It’s not the kind of 3d you would see at the movies. It’s more of an angled view that can also show terrain, rather than just a flat surface. This can be very helpful to me as I decide if I want a trip with lots of hills, or one that is fairly flat.
I chose a trip down 209th because it gave me a chance to view farms, fields, and avoid most of the traffic. I then went to the “More” button in the webpage and chose the “Bicycling” check box. All of the bike paths overlaid my map and I could map my trip based on the paths. Unfortunately I was unable to get the path to cover the entire area, and that’s what Portland cyclists are fighting for.
I was able to supplement my search by looking at sidewalks. I was able to cover over 90% of my ride with bike paths and sidewalks. You can look at the maps either as a cartoon stick figure look of the streets by clipping the “Map” button, or click the “Satellite” button to see an actual view. The satellite imagery allowed me to view the sidewalks by zooming in on the area.
I hopped on my bike and started out on an 8 mile course according to Google. I haven’t gone over two miles in my test runs so I didn’t know how hard it would be. On 209th I went from bike path to sidewalk until I got to Rosedale. So far, so good. No close calls but I was out of breath. I stopped at the corner. A horse came over to me and stuck his nose over the fence. That never happened on the treadmill. I pet him a little until he got annoyed with me because I had no food to offer him.
Down the street I went, and I saw fruit trees and farms and all kinds of new sights. 209th is where the urban sprawl stops so it was quite a contrast to the view across the street where hundreds of houses stood all close together. I used all ten gears on my bike as the hills rolled up and down. I had no sidewalk or bike path, but the traffic was light and I was able to go onto the shoulder if I needed to. The only concern I had was up ahead, and that was an “S” curve in the road. Visibility would be difficult for a driver to see me, but I checked behind me and saw no one coming. I knew from my satellite view this was coming, so I already could tell how far the curve went and what to expect, despite the fact I had never been here before. I could even open the app on my iPhone if I wanted a refresher of what the area looked like as I approached it.
I made it through without incident, and I got all the way to River rd. Now comes the hard part. With a treadmill, if you get tired you step off of it, and you’re done. When you run or bike outside your home, you have to remember that when you stop and turn around you’re only half way there. I turned around and took a long drink of water and caught my breath for a few minutes before heading back. By the time I got back home I was a little light headed, my legs felt like tree trunks, but I made it. The horse didn’t even bother coming over to the fence on the trip back, but he did remind to bring something with me on my next trip.
I’m looking forward to more weekend bike trips in the future, but there just aren’t enough safe areas to bring along my kids. Kids can bike around cul-de-sacs and dead end streets, but I just wouldn’t trust to bring them along on the path I went. I had cars zooming past at least 20 miles over the speed limit on 209th within five feet of me. I just couldn’t risk the kids going along. If we want family friendly bike paths where we can all get healthy together, then this has to be a priority for our candidates as we get to election time.  Now that I’m aware, I will be right there with you fighting for the right to bike safely on a lot more streets in Portland and the surrounding areas.
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Published Monday, May 17, 2010 1:05 PM by Mallory