Back to previous post: Talking like a pirate

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Melanoma and narcissism

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

September 20, 2008

Trip Planning
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:28 AM * 53 comments

In planning routes and figuring times from Hither to Yon, my favorite site is It is, IMHO, much better than or Mapquest.

Comments on Trip Planning:
#1 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 03:06 AM:

I do occasionally use dopplr -- but more frequently ask friends.

#2 ::: G D Townshende ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 04:53 AM:

Several times I've had Mapquest do a wonderful job of screwing up directions. Once, I was given directions (as well as a map) from Mapquest which were intended to get me to a class which my employed required me to attend. The directions had me turning the wrong way once I got to the end of an exit ramp. Plug in the address to where I work, and Mapquest makes a fairly similar mistake. You'll find the same thing happening at Yahoo's web site, as well as at Googlemaps, because they all use the same database.

If nothing else, the screw-ups are uniform and consistent, I guess.

I'm far more inclined to use a map, though, and I make a habit to keep one in my car, too. My girlfriend recently commented on just how easy I can apparently make getting from one point to another with a fairly quick glance at a map.

#3 ::: G D Townshende ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 04:55 AM:

EDIT: (...) which my employed required (...)

employed should be employer, obviously.

#4 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 07:09 AM:

But what if you want to go from Yon to Hither?

#5 ::: PurpleGirl ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 07:29 AM:

While plotting road trips to more northern counties in NYS from NYC, Mapquest will inevitably have you cross the Hudson on the George Washington Bridge. This is not always (actually usually) not the right thing to do. It is often better to stay on the east side of the river until you can use the Bear Mountain Bridge or one more north of there. One time Mapquest had me cross the GWB and then cross back which made no sense as I was going to Rheinbeck, which is on the eastern side of the Hudson. And since the state has smoothed out many of the curves in the Taconic State Parkway, it's a nicer and prettier road to drive north on. Mapquest seems to ignore its existence.

Yahoo maps also has a hard time finding addresses in Queens. It has put the marker for my building several blocks north and west of where it is consistently.

I'll definitely give your recommendation a chance.

#6 ::: ADM ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 08:10 AM:

Nice to know, although I have also had pretty good luck with Google's directions. I like the ones from the US to Europe ... not that I'm that much of a swimmer :-)

#7 ::: Ambar ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 10:45 AM:

I much prefer Google Maps to Mapquest for daily use, and didn't know Switchboard had even gotten into the business.

However, last I checked, both Google Maps and Mapquest, when asked to find my address, leave you in the middle of the Calaveras River, about five miles from the house. MSN maps does not have that bug, oddly enough.

#8 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 11:23 AM:

I hate Mapquest. is my usual first choice, though I occasionally check a second source (Google maps) for backup.

#9 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 11:59 AM:

Ambar, Google Maps is lacking real coverage in a lot of places, and is still filling in parts of major cities, but I really enjoy periscope street view. Microsoft's version allows you angled views that you can rotate, which is interesting. ('Oh, that's where it is!')

#10 ::: Liza ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 12:20 PM:

I used to regularly use Google Maps (for the places I go, it seems to have good coverage) but recently they seem to have done some kind of redesign that makes it not work in my Firefox. Maybe I just need to update something, but I don't know what, so it's irksome. So thanks for the suggestion, it'll be nice to have something to try other than going back to MapQuest!

#11 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 01:33 PM:

I detest Mapquest, and I'm a big fan of Google Maps. It seems to work well everywhere I've tried it, including notoriously-difficult-to-navigate Boston, and I also used it to plan a cross-country trip. The new feature that lets you change the route by dragging is brilliant (I used it to bypass Chicago). But I agree that it helps to back up map planning with info from knowledgeable people. It never would have occurred to me that I could take I-80 to Cleveland from Boston, instead of I-90 - it's only a few miles farther, and is much more pleasant - if I hadn't talked to someone from Ohio.

#12 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 01:34 PM:

Google Earth and Google Maps are fine for trip planning and maybe for findng specific locations ifrom one's chair, but for finding actual physical locations there's nothing like a nice paper map of the largest size you can carry; the first thing we buy upon crossing any state line by car is a Thomas or DeLorme atlas, supplemented by folded city maps where necessary.

Of course I once had fourteen USGS 7.5 minute maps butted together and held up with push-pins on a wall in my apartment (twelve foot ceilings) so it's possible I may have a bit of a map kink.

#13 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 01:48 PM:

It appears that both Google Maps and MapQuest have gotten rid of the "turn the wrong way down a one way street" in favour of the illegal "make a U-Turn in the following place". Apparently two wongs still aren't making a wight.

#14 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 02:59 PM:

I like Google Maps -- have found it reliable in most situations.

However, Mapquest gives a much cooler "back way" from the town where I used to live to Myrtle Beach. Google Maps would have me just drive the interstate, and where's the fun in that? I wouldn't have gotten to see all kinds of cotton fields and small towns and old gas stations. (The "back way" was faster, too. We ended up with a whole extra hour before the show at the House of Blues, so we ate at the House of Blues restaurant, which entitled us to cut the line and get right up at the front. You have not lived until you have stood five feet from the stage at a Bad Religion show.)

#15 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 03:09 PM:

xeger, you sure you don't mean "bight?"

#16 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 03:29 PM:

JESR @12: [..] for finding actual physical locations there's nothing like a nice paper map of the largest size you can carry [..]

Decades ago* I was on a bicycle trip in Southern Ontario, and stopped at a street corner to pull out my maps and orient myself. Neither of the streets I was on were on my maps!

Blundering on anyway, about an hour later I passed a truck stop/diner/motel and decided to stop. After getting something to eat, I found detailed maps available in the gift shop, and picked up one.

I love the map utilities we have nowdays. For bicycling, I would like to have one which could plan a route which minimized going up and down hills; tracking changes in elevation along the proposed route. It could be worth riding a few extra miles on a less direct path if you didn't have to fight as many hills. Does such a thing exist?

* Only three...

#17 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 03:31 PM:

Mapquest has offered me some proposed routes to a destination which ultimately simply give up after some ridiculous number of turns taking you nowhere near the best route, and dump you at some random point some distance from the destination.

In one of these cases, it offered me a route which drove entirely on local roads, making turns virtually at random, and cutting through a military base with restricted access, before it gave up. The optimal route (which I half knew and was just trying to find the right exit for) involved hopping on the freeway, getting off at a particular exit, and turning right, left, right. Even a poor non-freeway route would have been pretty fast.

Google Maps never makes those kinds of errors for me. Often it produces routes that are not what I'd consider the best one, but are reasonable. Rarely it produces routes that are actually better in terms of traffic or distance than the one I would normally guess. The other great feature with Google Maps is that you can drag the route to a particular waypoint, so if you know the route part of the way, you can drag to there and then let it find the rest of the way from there.

As to databases, I suspect they're drawing on the same sources in some areas, but using different sources in others.

#18 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 03:33 PM:

I'm a fan of Google Maps, and I especially like their new "walking directions" beta.

I find it sad that they no longer have the "swim across the Atlantic Ocean" directions enabled, though.

#19 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 03:41 PM:

( long as both Hither and Yon are on the North American continent...)

We use Google Maps, mostly, over here in Hitherless Unyonified territory, usually adding in a heavy dose of common sense. But we're going to get a TomTom soon.

#20 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 04:57 PM:

P J Evans (#9): one of the best new features of Google Maps is the integration of Street View (where available) with directions.

Especially around Boston (where "slight right" and the like might be hard to identify based solely on the overhead map view) this can be really useful.

#21 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 05:00 PM:

Christopher Davis #20, I concur, Street View is a REALLY useful feature!

#22 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 05:39 PM:

Clifton Royston @17 and abi @19:
My (Garmin) GPS once told me to cut through a cemetery. I declined, and after trying a couple more times to route me through it it gave up.

#23 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 06:18 PM:

Linkmeister @15 ...
xeger, you sure you don't mean "bight?"

Wouldn't that be rather naughty?

#24 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 07:11 PM:

There are topo programs (Topo, coming immediately to mind), which you can probably print to the scale of you paper map. If you ran them off on translucent slides (available for overhead protection) and had a way to register them, you can do the bike mapping preferences.

And carry them with you.

#25 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 07:33 PM:

xeger @ #23, um, how? I'm thinking of bight's definition as the loop or bend in rope.

(My long-ago Navy boot camp memories occasionally spring up.)

#26 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 07:52 PM:

I'm a Google fangirl, and have recently discovered that Google Maps installed on one's phone makes an admirable substitute for a paper map. I'm especially fond of not having to figure out which section of the paper map I'm in, as Google Maps will automatically center on whichever cell tower I'm using when I tell it to. Google says it's accurate to within 500 to 5000m, depending on cell tower density in your area.

#27 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 08:06 PM:

Linkmeister - thanks! I have heard that word used all my life, and have used it properly myself, without ever realizing that it is bight and not bite.

I always has a visual of the rope bend being a mouth, and when you are "caught in the bight" it was biting you. Caught in the "bite" is much more colorful, but not accurate.

#28 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 08:10 PM:

Tania @ #27, Grins. Then my work here is done.

(The one I never got right until I heard it was misled, as in poorly led. Until I got to college whenever I read it I pronounced it in my head as though it were mizled with a long "i", thinking it meant something like obfuscated.)

#29 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 08:50 PM:

Christopher @ 20
Usually I know which direction I'm going; what I'm after is the view of what's there now.

#30 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 09:29 PM:

I really like Yahoo maps for driving directions. I generally check it to get an idea of distance and time, and see if there's maybe an interesting different route. Google maps don't center in my screen, and that drives me up the wall.

However, today I've been looking for a new place to live. Many addresses are like, "Hm, I know that's not a great neighborhood, but how bad is it?" googlegoogle Streetview lookaround and upanddownthestreet... One place had a picture in streetview of an early-morning gleaner with a shopping cart going through the recycling out front of the place for rent. (You might have to spin around 180... Half the time that map seems to come up showing the wrong side of the street.) Hah!

Oh, and I've been using's Google map pedometer to figure out biking distances. It's pretty fun, but it seems like there are probably other bit-by-bit distance mapping sites?

#31 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 09:47 PM:

Rob Rusick, after many wasted hours, I have developed a technique when somewhat misplaced: stop at the first non-chain business you see, and ask for directions if they don't have a map to buy. Most of them will have local maps, though, of the sort you can't buy in advance.

This doesn't solve the problem of five-digit B routes in the Southern Highlands, though, since there are no businesses there. The home defense forces took all the signs off the finger-posts in 1939 and nobody's gotten around to putting them back. A wrong turn just after Jedburgh and the best you can hope is a kind Scot will stop and have you follow them down to Edinburgh after you've wandered all afternoon in the fog with nothing more informative to look at than sedge and damp sheep.

#32 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 11:04 PM:

JESR @31: I've been wondering about the ease of getting lost in the Highlands - if I can manage to add another digit to my savings account I'm considering renting a room in the Glenelg Inn for a week. (Does Glenelg count as Southern Highlands? I seem to recall Jedburgh being much farther south. Also I seem to recall a hawk eating frozen chicks out of my fist. I like Jedforest. :))

#33 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 11:47 PM:

Jim: I followed your link, but tossed it when they said -"We'll email you the route."- I don't see them even \claiming/ anywhere that they won't abuse the address; have you not seen any problems? I'm also not sure I like the idea of directions with no maps; I work well with shapes, and have gotten around mis-written directions with the help of even the little maps Google provides.

PurpleDog: where do they send you from the GW? Up Palisades?!? For outbound, I'd think at least getting you up to the Tappan Zee would be an improvement.

Shadowsong: I've made two car trips in the Highlands (one also involving the ... scenic ... parts of Yorkshire) and never gotten lost even on one-lane roads -- some combination of a good copilot and Michelin maps (which are insanely thorough and precise, such as correctly showing a section of an A-road to Devon that has 4 roundabouts in a tiny distance (

So far I haven't found \any/ map service that will provide what I think is a realistic measure of how much longer city street travel takes than highway travel -- they all seem to figure you can do the speed limit. OTOH, I've found an interesting test: Google was the only one to tell me to make a very nice short ferry near the end of a trip from Boston to Plattsburgh, instead of taking lots of 2ndary roads over the top of Champlain. It's annoying that Google doesn't work very well on my work system (often dumping a file that the printer just gives up on), requiring that I print on the much slower home printer; but that's usually liveable. (It helps that home prints in color.)

#34 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 12:10 AM:

Linkmeister @25 ...
xeger @ #23, um, how? I'm thinking of bight's definition as the loop or bend in rope.

... and I was thinking 'knotty' not 'naughty'[0], despite what my fingers typed *sigh*

[0] ... which is a dreadful concordance of words if spoken aloud...

#35 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 01:30 AM:

Shadowsong, I don't know how easy it is to get lost in the Southern Highlands, I only know how easy it is for my husband to get lost there, which is another thing entirely.

#36 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 01:36 AM:

xeger @ #34, heh. Oh well, we succeeded in helping Tania with her spelling of the word. Lemons into lemonade.

#37 ::: G D Townshende ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 01:42 AM:

What follows veers a little off topic, sort of...

When I recently went up to NYC, the driver of the shuttle I took to Dulles had some sort of on-board navigation system giving him audible directions. It was not one that was installed in the van by the manufacturer. Even as a passenger, I found listening to the thing incredibly annoying.

As I work the evening shift and am on the road from about 11.00p to 11.45p making my way home, I'm always seeing cars with similar devices, with the screens suction-cupped to their windscreens. Maybe I'm just too damned picky, but I'd find the light from those displays annoying, too, if I had one in my car.

Just give me a regular map, and I'll pull off onto the shoulder to consult the bloody thing if I need to. Ever since such devices came out, I've been of the opinion that we're now creating a generation whose illiteracy not only causes them to not know the difference between things as simple as to/too/two, their/there/they're, etc, but to also not know how to read a simple map.


(I guess this is a case where I'm something of a Luddite. Ah well. So be it.)

#38 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 01:54 AM:

Tania is most appreciative for the clarification on bight!

However, she now has images of a pamphlet titled "Naughty knots for Nauts for naught" and visions of astro/cosmonauts engaging in bondage play in reduced gravity situations. Dang it.

I'm stealing Halting State from the husband's side of the bed and going to try to go to sleep.

#39 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 03:42 AM:

I don't think the Scots call the hills of the Border Country the "Southern Highlands".

But they were marked on maps as a "debatable land".

Generically, they seem to be the Border Hills, with various bits having their own names. I'm not sure of the whole mass south of the Forth and Clyde, running out througyh Dumfries and Galloway, but the term which comes to my mind is "Southern Uplands". It's all a different culture to the Highlands.

#40 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 04:34 AM:

Jedburgh's in the Borders, the strip of country that Scotland and England fought over for centuries. There are many castles, but few roads.

The Highlands start, from what I hear, at a particular phone box in Crieff. Whatever the truth of that particular detail, they're all north of the Firth and the Clyde.

(My husband and got lost once, in the greater SF Bay Area. We thought we were approaching Oakland from the south, and suddenly saw signs for Hercules. Now, whenever we're lost, we turn to each other and exclaim, in voices of wonder and surprise, "Hercules?!?")

#41 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 04:43 AM:

For those who may not know the ins and outs of the greater SF Bay Area, Hercules is about 25 miles north of Oakland. So if you think you're approaching Oakland from the south....

#42 ::: Janet ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 07:51 AM:

I'm another fan of Google maps, especially the option to drag the cursor to change the preferred route. Often I'll print out the detailed directions when I'm setting out for new territory.

I also have a TomTom GPS (the cheapest). I rarely agree with the route it picks to leave town but once I'm out of town along my chosen route I turn it on and let it direct me to my destination. It warns me carefully of turns ahead so I can concentrate on driving and not searching the roadside for signs. I found it particularly useful navigating Montreal's expressways, which I considered poorly signed.

Then, of course, I also have paper maps in my car and at home. I love maps and the paper ones are better for seeing the lay of the land.

Hmm, perhaps I'm a wee bit obsessive...

#43 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 10:00 AM:

CHip (33): If you don't want them to email it to you, they'll print it right on the screen. It's the only mapping service I've tried that recognizes the existence and utility of the Taconic Parkway in New York, but the rest of the route was strange.

#44 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 12:49 AM:

G D Townshende @37:
My Garmin GPS unit goes to both minimum brightness and a dark background automatically after sundown; it's not obnoxious at all.

Dave Bell @39:
And here I thought I lived in the Debatable Lands. :) (this will make sense only to SCAdians)

#45 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 08:31 AM:

geekosaur @ 44 ... Nothing debatable about them anymore -- they belong to themselves year 'round, instead of going to the loser...

#46 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 09:17 AM:

#9, PJ Evans -

It doesn't solve the coverage problem Google Maps has in some areas, but the Google Street View does allow you to rotate it as well. That was what finally helped me figure out a route through a small town square I have to navigate frequently. I could get where I wanted to be, but I knew I was driving the long way around, and I couldn't find the right route through the square to do it the short way.

More generally:
In addition to the walking directions, Google is slowly starting to add public transit directions. They've got some for Atlanta and I got really amusing results playing with them a while back. I live in Cobb County, which has a small transit system that connects to Atlanta's Marta. Google knows about Marta, but not about the Cobb system. So when I asked for directions for a five-mile commute in Cobb county using the new transit maps, it directed me to walk two miles to the nearest Marta stop, take a bus to a train to another train to another bus, then walk two more miles. The five mile trip on foot was estimated at taking an hour and a half, but by transit it took almost three. (They've fixed it since - now it just says "That area isn't covered." Drat!)

I gave up on Mapquest after it managed to find and direct us to use an unpaved road inside the perimeter in Atlanta. Just no.

#47 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 09:25 AM:

geekosaur @#44: You live in Da Burgh?

And xeger, they may not be debatable anymore, but the name lives on...

#48 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 09:29 AM:

Carrie S. @ 47 ... if I was slightly more awake, there's a (filk) song in that line...

"The name lingered on / long after she'd gone..."

#49 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 12:49 PM:

abi, according to the labels on our ordinance survey maps the Southern Highlands are that range of heights north of the Tweed and south of Edinburgh. Lots of sheep, and if one chooses the best-maintained road it often comes to a dead end in somebody's forage shed.

The Highlands proper we didn't get lost in, although coming back to Edinburgh from Crathes Castle by way of the headwaters of the Dee was, perhaps, a unique choice. That's a route which drives home the meaning of "Highland clearance" though, as one is constantly going around corners and looking down long vistas punctuated with the remnants of stone bothies.

#50 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 05:01 PM:

JESR @49:
according to the labels on our ordinance survey maps the Southern Highlands are that range of heights north of the Tweed and south of Edinburgh.

Interesting. I never heard that term; we always called it the Borders.

But Ordnance Survey is never wrong...

#51 ::: Mary Aileen sees incoherence ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 07:22 PM:

I'm not sure #50 is spam, exactly, but it's certainly odd.

#52 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 11:21 PM:

Carrie S. @47:

Mary Aileen @52:
I'm thinking a bot of some kind triggered by the discussion about Google Maps and/or Street View.

#53 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 03:30 AM:

My method of navigation is to sit down with the street directory prior to leaving the house. Particularly in the city I'm living in at present, I have a sort of mental database of known routes from A to B, and known landmarks along the way. This means when faced with a new place to visit, I'll go from the "last known good" point (ie a road or landmark I know) and worry about the directions from there. Strangely enough, the place I have the most problems with isn't suburban - it's the city centre. Looking for building numbers on St George's Terrace is somewhat scary. Driving in Perth city is even worse, although a lot of that is the result of Perth City Council changing the way the streets are laid out (changing the direction of traffic flow here, adding in diversions there, and generally messing things about all over the place).

I had a look at Google maps once, when I was doing about a 45 minute commute, and discarded their direction giving service as useless, since the algorithms they were using to give the "quickest journey" clearly weren't optimised for peak hour in Perth, Western Australia. Sending someone down the Kwinana Freeway in *either* direction during peak hour is not fast (on the "into town" side, the freeway slows to a crawl for about the entire three hours before 9am and starts slowing down at about 3.30pm going the other way; the "out of town" side is almost as bad - traffic flows, but not as quickly as it could) despite the 100 km/h speed limits along a lot of it. My own route (picked via the street directory and local knowledge) worked just fine, and didn't get me going massively out of my way, either (which the Freeway would have done).

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.

(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.