How long would it take to bike to work? Walk to transit? Drive to transit? Drive the whole way? Use Capital Bikeshare? What about Bikeshare to transit? A new tool lets you compare these options.




Tools like Google Maps already let you see how to get from one place to another by transit, walking, biking, and driving. But this new tool, called Car Free A to Z, thinks deeper and lets you explore trips that combine more than one mode.

It also puts all of your choices on one easy-to-read map, labeling each mode with a different color and style of line so you can see them all side by side.

The above map shows the trip from an area in my neighborhood to Arlington Mobility Lab’s offices, where the idea for the project was born.


Car Free A to Z can also help people who live in suburban areas find options that don’t use a car or don’t entirely rely on the car. This example from Vienna to the Navy Yard, for instance, shows buses to two Metro lines, biking to Metro, and driving.

For each option it shows how someone could save money (on gas and parking) and/or time. As you can see, it stylizes things like the transit routes, as a transit map does, to help the user focus on the transfer points instead of the irrelevant twists and turns of the transit line.

Building Car Free A to Z

I spent a few months working in 2011-2012 with a group of coders on a Transit Tech fellowship, which came out of a discussion with Arlington County Commuter Services head Chris Hamilton.

Eric Fidler built a prototype of real-time arrival screens and Andy Chosak made a demonstration program called Transit Near Me.

Matt Caywood later turned Eric’s prototype into the company TransitScreen, while Kevin Webb and his company Conveyal created Car Free A to Z out of some of the concepts from Transit Near Me, and other ideas we brainstormed, with the help of a grant from Virginia DRPT I wrote as the fellowship program was wrapping up.

The program is still in beta and still has a few rough edges. A trip plan from my in-laws to our house, for instance, suggested all of the right routings that I’d think about, but also threw in a couple of weird ones, like riding Metro one stop beyond ours and then having a longer walk back. But it’s important to not expect software like this to be perfect, especially since it’s not from a huge company. And you can submit any bad or strange bugs to the team so they can improve the program.

Car Free A to Z builds on open source technology including OpenTripPlanner, a routing engine that Conveyal originally created for Portland TriMet but which anyone can use in their own software. This means that not only does our region get a useful tool, but also people building future tools also can benefit, and so does the riding public.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle.