Table of Contents
|Free Online Mapping and Driving Directions
By Ira Wilsker
Many of us like to use maps when we
travel. Maps can be used to display driving directions and points of
interest. Fortunately there are several excellent and free mapping
utilities available on the internet, such as those provided by
Microsoft’s “Live” service, Google, Yahoo!, and AOL’s Mapquest.
Mapquest (www.mapquest.com) has the honor of being one of
the oldest online mapping services, and during its tenure has earned a
large following. The interface on the startup page is simple, giving
the user the options to enter the “Maps” option to display the image of
a single location, or “Directions” to calculate driving directions.
Maps generated can be displayed either in traditional graphics format,
or as an aerial image with key streets labeled. If an individual map is
selected, a bar at the top of the screen allows the user to locate and
select from a lengthy list of local facilities including restaurants,
banks, pharmacies, colleges and universities, hospitals, auto repair,
and several other options. Any of the attractions listed have a link to
“map”, “directions to”, and “directions from” such that the user can
easily find the desired destinations. This feature can be invaluable to
travelers and locals alike to find points of interest. Since most
hotels currently offer internet access to guests, the ability to locate
any activity or points of interest using the internet can be a major
contributor to the joys of any trips.
One of the most useful features of any mapping website is
the creation and printing of driving directions. Mapquest offers a
fully featured driving direction service where up to 10 intermediate
points or stops can be selected. Options include the choice of shortest
distance or shortest time, avoiding busy highways, and avoiding toll
roads. For those who prefer detailed return directions there is a
selection “Reverse Route” which will generate detailed directions back
to the starting point. One very good capability of the Mapquest driving
directions is the easy option to create turn-by-turn maps to go along
with the driving directions. When the driving directions are displayed
on the screen, each segment has a “Map” option on the right edge of that
segment. If “Map” is selected, a detailed map of just that segment will
be inserted showing that turn in great detail. When the
“Printer-Friendly” link is clicked, the resultant map printed will
include the directions along with any map segments selected, along with
a large map displaying the entire route, with smaller maps detailing the
starting point and destinations.
The newest entry into the online mapping fray is Microsoft’s
Live service at maps.live.com. Microsoft uses maps created with its
“Microsoft Virtual Earth” using street data NAVTEQ. One interesting
feature of Live maps is the ability to show both aerial views as well as
hybrid maps which combines the aerial view along with the street map.
Much of the aerial imagery is from the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
Live also offers a most interesting service, a 3-D “birds’ eye view”
where images can be displayed in a virtual 3-D window, complete with
buildings and major landmarks that can be displayed from any
perspective, from straight above to any selected angle. The search bar
at the top of the page can display the location of any points of
interest, such as restaurants.
Live offers detailed driving directions using either the
flat 2-D maps, or the more sophisticated 3-D maps. When printed, the
output includes detailed directions along with detailed maps. One
interesting feature on Live is a display of real-time traffic conditions
for major cities. As I type this, Live is displaying a Houston area map
with some “moderate” incidents displayed on the map, but the color code
for the Houston area highways indicates that traffic is flowing smoothly
around most of the city.
Yahoo! has recently upgraded its mapping function (maps.yahoo.com).
For those who may prefer the older format, but still very usable maps
and directions, Yahoo! offers a link at the top of the page “Dial-up Map
Original” which will open the prior mapping service. The new Yahoo!
Maps offers a choice of a traditional road map, satellite view, or
hybrid combining the roads with the satellite image. Options to display
attractions such as restaurants and hotels are included in Yahoo! maps.
Yahoo! offers driving directions either direct or by adding
desired stops or waypoints, and the printed output contains very clear
text along with a detailed route map. Yahoo! also displays real-time
traffic conditions for major cities showing incidents and average speeds
along the major roadways.
Google also offers a competitive mapping service at
maps.google.com. As with most of the others’ services, maps can be
displayed as a road map, satellite view, or hybrid. Google merges its
popular search engine with the ability to locate attractions and local
points of interest. As is now common, Google offers road maps,
satellite images, or hybrid maps. Google also offers real time traffic
Google was recently rated as the most popular source of
driving directions, and its printed directions are among the most
precise and easiest to read. Small maps display the details of the
starting point, destination, and route summary.
With the summer upon us, and as we enter the peak driving
season, a good map or two may be most helpful on our journeys. With
near universal internet access in most hotels, local information can be
just a few keystrokes and mouse clicks away, by utilizing these
services. I would suggest that readers experiment with two or more of
the above mapping services to determine personal preferences, and print
driving directions from one or more of the services.
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