Trip Routing: Google Maps

This entry is part 3 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).

Google Maps

From what I gather when talking maps to folks, Google’s service has become the go-to source for nearly everyone. For around town, its what I use, and its Android app for my Droid works great for turn-by-turn GPS. How are they for long trips, though? Let’s take a look…

I haven’t even entered the first destination when I notice my first concern… there aren’t many options for when it comes to the type of roads I want to ride.

Avoiding highways and toll roads are the two most important options, but I think the built in functionality likely focuses on spending the least amount of time as possible on the road, something that usually isn’t what I am looking for in a motorcycle journey.

When I plug in Madawaska for the destination, Google does a great job at not putting me on any highways for the entire 678 mile trip. Not even 3 steps in to my examination, and already I’ve found a reason to use Google over MapQuest. The same holds true for the remainder of the route, a total of 10,112 miles, when I enter in the rest of the primary stops. Big, big plus mark for Google.

Additionally, Google uses a side-by-side view for turn-by-turn directions and the overhead map view. A nice addition would be to allow the user to minimize the turn-by-turn directions, but it’s so much easier to look at everything all at once. All the turns are numbered (527 turns in this case), and clicking on an individual item brings you to that point on the overhead map. Very, very nice addition.

Another nice feature is a graphic representation of the type of turn to expect, with symbols for left and right turns, traffic circles, exit/entrance ramps, slight left/right turns, and forks in the road.

Adjusting the route Google planned out for me is a snap. A simple click-and-drag creates a waypoint between two destinations:

There is also the ability to UNDO the change, and it works well.

Unfortunately, it also zooms you all the way out to an overview of the entire route, but it’s still a great feature.

The problems come when I want to save the trip, as no where on the page is there any kind of save button. Thinking that perhaps it’s located in the My Maps section, I am disappointed when I go there.

Clicking on LEARN MORE takes me away from my 4 Corners map and brings me to the help guide. Ooops. I click on the back button to discover my whole route has been deleted.

Ok, let’s start from scratch?

I enter the points I want to travel to again. Rather than directions, the My Maps section simply places little eyedopper icons at the locations of the towns, which I can then save to the map I am (hopefully) creating for this post (“Google Review”).

Flipping over to Get Directions keeps in in the route I just saved, and I can now enter the points of interest AGAIN (drag… too much extra work, Google!) and re-do what I lost earlier. The good news is that the route comes up identical to the earlier plan (10,112 miles). I switch back to My Maps, select Google Review, and add the new driving directions to the new map, but I still don’t see a way to save the new (old) route as part of this particular map.

Maybe I just haven’t found it yet, but a save button should be a pretty prominent feature in any software that’s sole function is content creation. At this point, I am tired of trying to figure out how to save the trip data, so I give up. Unfortunately, for all that Google does right, this makes it unusable for me as far as trip planning goes. Not having user-friendly save functionality limits Google Maps to around-town directions, or any trip that you believe you can plan in one sitting.

But even if you can plan it all out at once, unless you print it out, there is no way to take it with you. You could, I suppose, save it as a link (which they do have a button for right up in the top of the map screen) or send it to yourself as an email. Assuming you have a smartphone, you could then view it on your phone while you drive, but, again, that is not very motorcycle friendly.

Google Maps in a nutshell:

Pros
Excellent handling of routing.
Excellent speed at both rout calculation and drawing.

Cons
Lack of an intuitive SAVE feature makes it nearly unusable for anything longer than day-trips.

One more big plus that I didn’t get to test out is the Collaborate feature. It appears as though I can send the link of the map to various people who could then make changes to it. This would be tremendously effective if, for example, I decided to meet up with someone along the way and wanted his input on roads to ride in his area. I assume that there is a way to save it for this particular function, and it may even prove to be a workaround for the whole no-save-suckiness I encountered.

Series NavigationTrip Routing: MapQuestTrip Routing: Harley Davidson’s Ride Planner
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