The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Getting Around Illinois

By Matt Wood in Miscellaneous on Dec 30, 2005 9:19PM

2005_12_getting_around_IL.jpgThe Illinois Department of Transportation launched a new web site called Getting Around Illinois on Thursday. It provides a wealth of traffic and road information, including directions, construction zones, which roads have been cleared during snow storms, and road services like rest stops and gas stations. Eventually they will even provide email and text message alerts about accidents and road closures. IDOT touts the site as one-stop shopping for transit data that previously had been scattered among other sites. Do they pull it off?

Chicagoist reviews the site after the jump...

It may have been a better idea to launch this site last week before the big holiday travel weekend, but Chicagoist applauds the move because we're all for more government services on the web. We thought we'd give it a spin to see if it can hang with the likes of MapQuest or Google Maps, with its horde of hacker spinoffs. While we prefer MapQuest, apparently Google Maps is the best. True dat. Double true.

Chicagoist drives nearly the length of the state to visit our parents in southern Indiana, so for our test case we tried to plot the route down I-57 to Effingham, then through the wasteland of southern Illinois to I-64 and over to Indiana:

First snag: Driving directions are limited to Illinois only. We suppose that's fair since this is a state project, but a little disappointing. IDOT could have swung a deal with some road data provider to at least extend its possible destinations to neighboring states.

Second problem: Since we couldn't plot the route all the way across the border, we tried the closest town to the border, Grayville, just to see what the directions looked like. No deal. You have to supply an exact address, no clever default to the geographical center of town if you just need rough directions. We figure 80 percent of the time we need directions we have an exact destination in mind, but this would still be a nice feature. To be fair, we plotted a route between two addresses in city, and given enough information the directions were fine.

Third problem: The site's usability stinks. Sure, it's hard to compete with Google and their slick AJAX powered scrolly maps, instant zoom ins, and satellite overlays, but the IDOT site looks like it was built in 1995. It's difficult to figure out how to zoom in or pan around, and once you master it, the response time is exteremely slow. Check out some books guys, you have some studyin' to do.

Fourth problem: Not so much of a problem, just a nitpick. Directions, winter road conditions, construction updates, locations of gas stations, hospitals, schools, etc: those things are useful. But the site is littered with many other cryptic options and pieces of data that will probably just scare away the average user. For instance, you can turn off visibility for streets, or highlight planned land acquisitions and engineering sites for 2006 construction projects. Who needs that? It seems like they tossed some of this data in there just because they had it on hand. And again, the implementation of these features is lacking. You have to open up drop down menus, check boxes, refresh the map, zoom in, yadda yadda, before you can see any of these landmarks. It's just messy.

Overall grades: A+ for concept, C for effort, D- for execution. Chicagoist sees no reason to ditch Google or Yahoo Maps for Getting Around Illinois. The site is worth watching though, because the unblinking eye of The Man will always have the best data about roadways available. If they could update their technology and learn a thing or two about user-friendliness, they might have something worth bookmarking.