Race to a Smart Future

As reported last month on BF.com, seven finalist cities have been chosen for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. DOT has pledged up to $40 million to the winning city, which will become the first U.S. metro to fully integrate innovative technologies—self-driving cars, connected vehicles and smart sensors, among other advances—into its transportation network.

Smart-transportation_330x400Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc. additionally will award up to $10 million to the winning city to support electric vehicle deployment and other carbon-emission reduction strategies. And a Smart City Challenge partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS), a secure cloud services platform, will provide solution architecture and best practices guidance to the finalists to help them leverage AWS services for Smart City solutions, as well as award $1 million of credits to the Challenge winner for AWS Cloud services and AWS Professional Services.

DOT received such a huge response to its call for applications—78 cities entered the contest—that it expanded the number of finalists from five to seven. The finalists, announced at the South by Southwest (SXSW) tech and music fest, are: Austin, TX; Columbus, OH; Denver, CO; Kansas City, MO; Pittsburgh, PA; Portland, OR; and San Francisco, CA. Each has received a $100,000 DOT grant to further develop their proposals.

DOT has encouraged the finalists to “think big.” The winning city will be announced in June, but we’ve taken a peek at some of the finalists’ applications. So here are some coming attractions:

—Columbus plans to build a “Smart City Program Office” bringing together the city, the Central Ohio Transit Authority, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, the state Department of Transportation, Ohio State University and representatives from private industry. The new office would work to deploy autonomous vehicles connecting citizens with public transit; deploy smart intersections, implement broadband connectivity and enhance traveler information along a bus rapid transit corridor; develop a smart phone application giving truck and freight drivers access to real-time traffic information and routing; create an app for out-of-town visitors, giving them info on traffic, parking and transit options; and add more electric vehicle charging stations, switch municipal fleet vehicles to compressed natural gas and research electric vehicles as an option for the city fleet.

—Pittsburgh wants to build on existing partnerships with Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. The city has a broad plan for “adaptive transportation systems” that would remain useful even as technology evolves in coming years. With an open platform, the city would create new uses for different modes of transportation, improve safety information and boost mobility options for underserved neighborhoods. One technology cited by Pittsburgh is “smart spines,” which would use sensor data and controls to compile information on Pittsburgh’s larger transportation corridors.

—Portland’s concept is called “Ubiquitous Mobility for Portland” (UB Mobile PDX). The concept involves creating a marketplace for mobility that will take in data from a transportation-connected Internet of Things, allowing users to buy and sell mobility. With an option to aggregate payments, users in the marketplace would be able to choose multiple modes of transportation in one place.
The marketplace will connect with an open data cloud that will gather input from the Internet of Things, including smart phones and a growing number of devices plugged into vehicles’ computers. 
The city also will launch pilot projects for both autonomous and connected vehicles, integrated with efforts to add collision-avoidance systems to buses. 

—Kansas City’s plans include connecting public transit to Wi-Fi, expanding a bike-sharing program and crafting autonomous vehicle regulations. Some of these changes already are happening along the 2.2-mile downtown streetcar line. A $15.7-million public-private partnership was formalized in June 2015 when Kansas City signed a strategic agreement with Cisco Systems, Inc. and its partners to develop the most comprehensive smart city network in North America. Cisco was attracted to KCMO because of its emerging technology sector, the investment in transit infrastructure and the advent of Google Fiber. KC expects the smart city initiative to attract technology startups from across the globe to test their concepts in the city as it becomes an open data “living lab.”

—The first initiative in Austin’s vision for its Smart City future would see city and regional transportation planners begin to develop, test and deploy infrastructure, regulations and policies to deal with self-driving vehicles. The first phase of this program envisions automated shuttles and circulators, in partnership with Capital Metro and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, to connect the airport terminal with a yet-to-be developed mobility hub and cell-phone waiting lot. This initiative also outlines a vision for downtown, on-demand automated vehicle service for “last-mile” connections between existing transportation options and various destinations. An urban and suburban automated car-sharing program would fill in the gaps in Austin’s existing mass transit system. Austin also aims for a “one-pass” multi-modal transit smartphone app that would allow travelers to book rides and pay for them.

We don’t know if any NJ cities applied for the DOT challenge, but we’ve got a long-overdue smart transportation proposal of our own for the Garden State: let’s put some reflective paint over the lane lines on the Parkway, so our smart drivers don’t get into dumb accidents.

BF congratulates the finalists of the Smart City Challenge for their forward-thinking proposals. May the best city win!