Five years ago, the Star Tribune ran a feature article on the rising use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and posed the question: Is the paper road map headed for extinction?
Not so fast. While many motorists now rely on electronic navigational systems to find their way, highway maps are still a hot commodity, said Sue Roe of the Minnesota Department of Transportation. This year, the agency has given away 29,200 road maps — and more than 9,600 of the newly revised maps showing the state bicycle trails.
“The road maps are popular every year it seems,” Roe said. “Some people use GPS or Google maps, but some like to have that printed map as a backup. Others say they just like the feel of a map.”
Paper maps are still in vogue because they can provide context that phones and GPS systems cannot easily do. They also are not as irritating as Apple’s voice assistant, Siri, can be, directing a motorist’s every turn, says Kathy Mackdanz, manager of auto travel resources at AAA Minneapolis.
At a glance, they give motorists the “bigger picture.” Map readers can quickly identify different types of roads, the locations of rest areas, ferry crossings, national forests, historic sites and attractions, as well as time zones and driving distances.
They also are a trusted battery-free backup on the open road.
“A lot of people don’t want to use the phone while driving,” Mackdanz said. “GPS is nice and you see the little picture, but you want to see what is outside that area, and GPS does not give you that option in great detail. A lot of people want to see what else is out there if they get off the road, without having to go into an app or GPS system.”
Popular — and relevant
AAA Minneapolis provides more than 21,900 maps a year free to its members and to the public who can buy them in its St. Louis Park travel store. At times, the supply for popular tourist spots — Minnesota and Wisconsin, Florida and surrounding southeastern states, Colorado, and the Northeast — runs low. Sometimes demand exhausts the supply.
Twin Cities street maps and maps for cities such as Branson, Mo., Chicago, New York, Boston, and for international destinations such as Canada, South America and Europe have been flying off the shelf, she said.
These days, maps are more available and varied than ever, said Rebecca Boykin, a spokeswoman for Rand McNally, the purveyor of maps, atlases and travel products for a number of markets from consumer travel to commercial transportation to schools. Road atlases, which allow travelers to peruse several maps at once and choose their routes and places to see and visit, continue to be hot sellers. They also provide an easy, on-the-go reference, Boykin said.
Rand McNally has found ways to keep the paper map relevant. Its GPS devices for cars, trucks and RVs are coded to show correlating pages in its books, “offering the best of both worlds.” Boykin said.
Older drivers are not the only customers for paper maps. Mackdanz said that she has seen younger drivers picking up maps and that she is confident that maps won’t disappear from the landscape.
“The kids use GPS all the time, but maps will continue because people like to see the bigger picture,” she said.