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It appears to me that MapQuest is better at directions since it seems to put a lot more thought in when dishing out directions for trips. Here’s a brief summary of how my faith Google Maps ruined my trip.

I had to go to Washington DC from Toronto and despite the Mrs. Arsenalist telling me to print out the MapQuest directions, I trusted Google Maps and its AJAX loaded interface to provide me the directions. After entering the departure and destination addresses, Google Maps gave me directions which had me travel on US219 for about 150 miles. Now, if you’ve ever been on a US highway (not an interstate), you might know that it travels through countless towns where speed limits drop to 35mph and its single lane with little room for passing for the majority of the way. Not to mention traffic lights and next to no places to eat or rest, which makes for a frustrating drive.

Out of curiosity, I entered the same directions on MapQuest and it had me entirely skip US219 and instead take I-79 through Pittsburgh which is a full blown freeway where speeds rarely drop below 75mph. Although, it did add about 70 miles to the trip, it was much more preferable than going through towns like Bradford, PA and Ellicottville, PA which are not very fun to drive through.

So, is MapQuest better than Google Maps? If you believe Nathan Weinberg, MapQuest seems to know the speed limits across the country and can provide a much more desirable route than Google Maps which seems to be using something like a very unsophisticated version of Dijkstra’s shortest path algorithm to figure things out.

MapQuest also gives the user routes based on preference of shortest time or shortest distance. It also has options to avoid highways, tolls or even seasonally closed roads. Given the options to customize your trips based on all these options has huge advantages and can avoid getting you stuck behind a station wagon going 35mph for 35 miles. So despite AJAX being splattered all over the browser, Google Maps as of now cannot compete with the old, industrious MapQuest. At least when it comes to directions.

Here are the two different Maps for the Toronto to DC trip. Although Google Maps predicted an estimated 9 hour travel time, it turned out to be much more since the traffic on US219 and other US routes was miserably slow.

Google Maps Directions: 484 miles (about 9 hours 2 mins)

MapQuest Directions: 557 miles (about 9 hours 18 minutes)