Trip Routing: MapQuest

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Trip Planning - Routing Software

See this post for the introduction to this ongoing topic.

For all of the evaluations I am using the basic 4 Corners of the USA route: Rochester, NY > Madawaska, ME > Blaine, WA, > San Ysidro, CA > Key West, FL > Rochester, NY (a trip I one day hope to take).


Assuming that my aging memory is not failing me, MapQuest is the first online mapping site I ever used. And for a long time, it was my go-to source for both long trip planning and around-town directions. I haven’t used them in a number of years, though, and when I went back for a closer look I found that they actually have two services at the moment. First there’s the traditional service that has been around for a decade or more, and then there is their “new” service that is “faster and easier to use.”

First I’ll talk about the standard, “Classic” MapQuest:

The presentation of the map and directions immediately sets the traditional interface apart from most other mapping sites (and not in a good way). Instead of a side-by-side view where your route-planning is done on the left and the map itself is on the right, MapQuest Classic uses a top down structure which forces you to scroll up or down. In the case of long trips, the amount of scroll needed to view the directions, which appear in the bottom section of the interface, is significant. More problematic, I think, is that there is no change in scroll function when the cursor is placed over the map. Not being able to use the mouse wheel to zoom in and out of the map is, for me, extremely counter-intuitive, and I found myself constantly scrolling the page down and away from the map by accident.

Plugging in the first two stops of my 4 Corners trip reveals all the options I am looking for, but when the map is drawn a big yellow roadsign cautions me that the “Avoid Highways” option “cannot be used for routes over 250 miles.”

There is a work-around, as I can click and drag my route to get it off of, for example, Highway 20, a divided highway that runs from Montreal up the Eastern shore of the St. Lawrence Seaway. A bit of a drag, and a considerable amount of work considering that at 681 miles this isn’t even ¼ of the planned trip. A huge strike against MapQuest for me.

Plugging in the next stop reveals another strike against MapQuest. I realized I forgot to check “Avoid Toll Roads” in the preferences, so I do that and get another big yellow caution sign:

Considering that I just planned a 3972 mile trip, you’d think they’d tell me where the toll (tolls?) is located, but no. I scroll trough the directions searching for the toll road (64 lines to Madawaska, 77 lines to Blaine – yeah, the vertical layout is already getting old) and find a “(Portions toll)” notation next to I-75, about a third of the way from Maine to Washington. There’s a link next to it with “Avoid,” so I click on it, and MapQuest reroutes without taking me on the toll road. And sure enough, the big yellow caution sign is gone. Yeah, it’s good I can make such a simple adjustment, but why give me an “avoid toll road” option if you’re not going to pay attention to it? Very frustrating considering the scroll it took to find out where the toll road was and then being able to avoid it with a simple click, which was what my preferences supposedly instructed the routing software to do in the first place!

Strike three comes when MapQuest can’t figure out where Key West, FL is:

Key West is a city with a population of over 25,000 people, so it’s not exactly a booming metropolis, but it does have 3 whole zip codes all to itself and has been a part of the US since 1823. Ahh well… at least they knew it was in Florida.

For my purposes, the traditional MapQuest Interface is only barely usable, as it results in a significant increase in work on my end.

Scrolling back up to the top of the page, I click on the link for the “new MapQuest”:

Immediately, the “New MapQuest” brings me much relief in the familiar side-by-side layout of the map and direction screen. What’s more, the mouse wheel actually zooms in and out, something the traditional interface wasn’t able to handle.

Moving to plug in the directions for the first leg of the trip gives me pause, however, as I don’t see any kind of routing options anywhere. Clicking on Get Directions reveals them only after the route is already drawn on the map. Seems a bit backwards to me, but ok, I’ll take the extra step since all of the options I want and more are present:

For each option I select, however, the route is redrawn. One. at. a. time.

Shortest Distance.


Avoid Tolls.


Avoid Highways.

Ugh, it seems as though the New MQ shares the same limitations as Classic MQ, as the option is greyed out. This time there’s no cute little construction sign warning me, though. I wonder what it does with the toll that Classic made me take around I-75, so I plug in the next leg to Blaine, WA. Sure enough, there’s the message:

Unlike Classic mode, though, there isn’t an AVOID link next to the directions so I can’t reroute it automatically. There’s one thing left to do, so I scroll in and make my adjustments by hand. This brings up two more messages, one which I really, really like:

The undo button is a great addition, I think, as it lets you ignore your changes and revert to the previous route. I decide not to click undo, though, as I am intrigued by the other button, which turns out to be a bit misleading.

Clicking on the Timed Restriction notification in hopes to discover where this restriction is results only in the map being redrawn without any changes. Scrolling through the directions I find a note for a ferry that’s closed part of the year in the same color pattern as the message above:

I click on the AVOID link in the initial message to reroute around the ferry, and…

nothing happens. The map is redrawn without any changes. I clink three more times and still nothing. Finally I drag the route back down toward Quebec and the message goes away. Next I decide to try out the UNDO link in the “Your Route has been Modified” message (no, I can’t for the life of me imagine why they capitalized that message the way the did).



Every change I have made is wiped out, and my route, once again, takes me back along the toll road at I-75. I suppose I have to save after every change in order to undo incremental changes (which would be more of a Revert to Last Save button than an Undo button), but I’m not really all that interested in finding out at this point. Instead, I plug in the next two legs of the trip and see where they lead me.

This time, MQ knows right where Key West is! Additionally, the route actually avoids both I-95 and I-75 and opts for Rte. 27. I assume this is because of the “Shortest Distance” preference, but it reveals quite a difference between itself and Classic, as Classic had me routed down I-75.

Other features that I like about the New MapQuest:

-drag and drop re-ordering of route stops.

-the ability to click a button and see where many points of interest are located along a route, including: gas stations, schools, hospitals, post offices, hotels/motels, airports, and quite a few others.

Saving the map, however, is confusing. It asks me to save to one of two locations, New Map or Favorites:

I decide Favorites, since New Maps says it creates a new map. Doesn’t appear to work, so I go ahead and try New Map. No dice. Neither option is saved as a route. Instead, only a pin in the starting city (Rochester) is saved:

Also, there was no option to save as a gpx file for later uploading into a GPS unit, which, although not a high priority for me at the moment since I don’t yet have a GPS, is a huge oversight on their part.

To be honest, I half expect that I have done something incorrectly as far as saving goes (as MapQuest is not the only service whose save functionality is counter-intuitive – yes I’m looking at you Google!), but at this point I am rather frustrated with MapQuest and know it just doesn’t suit my needs for generating long, involved road trips. Of the two different modes, I favor the new MapQuest over the old, but the limitations of the user preferences (not to mention flat out ignoring some of the preferences) is a huge turn off as it ends up generating far more work on my part than it should.

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