Public Works: The App That Shows You How And Why to Commute Without a Car
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Public Works: The App That Shows You How And Why to Commute Without a Car

The Washington, D.C.–area tool maps your route and explains how healthy, wealthy, and green it will make you.

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

Washington DC Arlington County Commuter App

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Arlington County, Virginia, in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, is awash with commuters, both incoming and outward bound. Thanks to the county’s Commuter Services office, there is a new app, called Car Free A to Z, that helps people navigate Washington using the most efficient routes and methods possible.

Sitting across the Potomac River from the city proper, Arlington is what’s known as a bedroom community. Of its 216,000 residents, 47,000 travel to work in the capital, according the U.S. Census Bureau.

But Arlington is also home to the Pentagon, CIA headquarters, and other less militarized workplaces that employ a total of 221,000 people. There is such a changeover in Arlington that the county’s daytime population is estimated to be more than 20 per cent higher than its official residency number.

The point is, there is a lot of commuting in and out of Arlington, and that has the potential to translate into a lot of cars, a lot of gas money, and a lot of CO2. Enter Car Free A to Z, which maps your commute according to your preferences and ecological principles.

Users simply type in their start and end points, what time (approximately) they will be travelling, and which forms of transportation they are willing to take with the options of cycling, bike share, car, bus, and metro. The app then tells the user how best to get to their destination using that criteria, as well as how much better its suggested route is for you—always with a slant against driving alone.

For instance, if you need to get from a house on Arlington’s picket-fenced Pershing Drive to the U.S. Capitol building, and have all travel methods selected, the app will tell you the best option is to walk to a nearby bike share, cycle to the Court House metro station, take the Orange or Silver line, with trains arriving every two minutes, to Eastern Market station, then grab a shareable bike again and ride to the Capitol.

The app will also tell you that the entire trip should take 43 minutes and that, if you make that commute each day for a year, you will lose eight pounds, save $2,577 on travel expenses, gain 167 hours of productive time, and reduce your carbon footprint by 99 per cent—all compared to driving solo.

The bent is towards quicker, more environmentally friendly commutes. Even if a user plugs in that they are only willing to drive to their destination, in addition to showing them the quickest car route, the app reminds them how much cheaper and greener carpooling would be and presents links to carpooling websites.

Car Free A to Z is about providing commuters with alternatives and demonstrating why those alternatives are superior to driving. Even in cities where infrastructure does not invite quick and easy travel, that’s a valuable tool.

Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey reported that residents of the Toronto area had the slowest commutes in the country, spending an average of 32.8 minutes getting to work, compared with the Canadian average of 25.5 minutes.

Torontonians were found most likely in Canada to take public transportation to work, but only 1.2 per cent of commuters cycle, placing Toronto behind the likes of Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, and Winnipeg. And 64 per cent of commuters in this city still drive to work, while only 5 per cent travel as a passenger in a car. There’s a stigma around carpooling, in other words.

Granted, driving sometimes is the most time-efficient commuting option, as certain parties are delighted to point out. But, like Arlington’s app shows us, there’s more to consider than just the minutes and hours it takes. There’s personal and environmental health, and real money to consider.