When maps lead you astray

David Whitley July 3, 2015 Comments Off on When maps lead you astray

Monaco: Not flat.

Monaco: Not flat.

David Whitley looks at those destinations where getting from A to B isn’t as simple as it appears.


If you ever want a definition of “deceptive” then it’s worth taking a look at a street map of Monaco. I was there last week, and regularly found myself shaking my fist at one. It’s a small place, and streets are packed tightly on the map – they look like they’re really close together, and distances from A to B are short.

Maps, however, are 2D. And Monaco most definitely isn’t. It’s often the case that the two streets that are right next to each other on the map are separated by a sheer cliff in real life. Yeah, they’re close – they’re pretty much on top of each other.

This makes for a lot of huffing and puffing up hills and steps, and projected short walks end up taking considerably longer than is ideal.

A similar thing applies in Hong Kong – although it’s not always due to hills. There, it is a case of navigating the maze of overpasses and shopping malls that weave around the streets in order to get from one side to the other.

In many big cities, it’ll not be hills or pedestrian-unfriendly ways of crossing roads, but sheer traffic. Trying to get across a six lane road that’s teeming with cars is no fun and very time consuming – especially when you’ve got to get across a few of them. Bangkok is a classic example of this – and you can often find yourself staring at the map, wondering how on earth you’re supposed to be able to access a point that’s relatively close by.

In Sydney, the issue isn’t so much the traffic, but the traffic lights. Try walking down William Street and across the city centre to Darling Harbour – it’ll take you a lot longer than you probably anticipate as the frequent sets of lights seem to take an eternity to change.

For such instances, one of the greatest inventions of the internet era can be a great help. For all the things Google has tried, Google Maps surely has to go down as the most magnificent success. I end up using it so routinely that I’d hate to imagine life without it.

The maps themselves are tremendously useful, but the ‘Get Directions’ function is the real star. It doesn’t work everywhere, and it’s not always 100% accurate, but it’s often very handy for plotting which route to walk and how long to budget for that stroll. And if the distance and the time don’t seem to match up, then it’s highly likely that things aren’t quite as simple as they seem on the map.

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