USDOT Announces Seven “Smart Cities” Finalists

by Paul Lewis and Jessica Klion, Research Assistant, ICF International 

March 17, 2016

The digital and information era has brought about a revolution in transportation services. Wireless networks are ubiquitous, and there is an ever-growing array of mobile applications used to enhance mobility options. With these huge technological changes, there is the opportunity for public policy to play a forward-thinking role. Several groups, including Eno and U.S. DOT, have played an active role in thinking about the future of transportation technology and policy.

In December 2015 (about the same time that Eno launched its Digital Cities project), the U.S. Department of Transportation launched The Smart City Challenge as a follow up to the February 2015 report, Beyond Traffic. The challenge provides up to $40 million in Federal funds and another $10 million from Vulcan Inc., founded by Paul Allen, to one mid-sized U.S. city to help them address the challenges associated the growing demands on transportation infrastructure. Through the challenge the USDOT anticipates to better understand how burgeoning transportation technologies, applications, and data can be incorporated into existing systems to address transportation needs, including congestion, safety, and the environment.

Through the initial Notice of Funding, USDOT received applications from 78 cities across the U.S. In a formal announcement at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, this list of 78 applicants was narrowed down to seven finalists: Austin, TX; Columbus, OH; Denver, CO; Kansas City, MO; Pittsburgh, PA; Portland, OR; and San Francisco, CA. These seven finalists will receive $100,000 each in funding to help develop their initial proposals. USDOT will announce a winner in June of 2016.

Here are some reasons why the U.S. DOT selected these seven cities:

Austin, Texas

The City of Austin’s proposal draws on several emerging transportation technologies, including driverless cars and roadway sensors. The city also intends to shift traffic monitoring protocol away from a city-focused outlook, so monitoring looks at the region as a whole. According to the Mayor’s Office, the proposal is a regional effort with other transportation bodies. The strategies involved in Austin’s plan aim to ensure that traffic moves efficiently and effectively throughout the entire urban region.

Columbus, Ohio

Through the funding from the Smart City Challenge, the City of Columbus proposes to establish a Smart City Program Office, which will allow for efficient collaboration between several partners, including, Columbus, Central Ohio Transit Authority, Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, Ohio Department of Transportation, the Ohio State University, and private sector partners. The proposal included five primary focus areas with specific technologies designated to improve the region’s mobility. These include (1) Access to jobs through an autonomous vehicle pilot program, (2) Smart logistics using real-time traffic condition and routing data through a smartphone application, (3) Connected visitors with a real-time traffic, parking, and transit information for special events, (4) Connected citizens in underserved communities to expand access to shared-use options, and (5) Sustainable transportation through the Smart Grid project, natural gas, and the electric vehicle charging network.

Denver, Colorado

Denver’s Smart Cities Challenge proposal aims to “create a replicable, scalable, world-class Smart City Program, that provides all users with flexible, affordable, and accessible multimodal options.” As such, the program aims to “provide a bridge between the people, services, goods, travel choices, information, and technology, allowing for engagement, accessibility, adoptability, and adaptability while being flexible enough to continually evolve, learn, and get ‘smarter.’” Denver cites several challenges, including: the changing mobility patterns of the population, accessibility for under-served populations, an aging and degraded infrastructure, and the demands of technology and cyber security. However, the City’s Smart City Program provides an opportunity to overcome these obstacles using a four-pronged approach intended to improve safety, enhance mobility, and address climate change and will provide opportunities for Denver to collaborate with a number of stakeholders.

Kansas City, Missouri

Through the Smart City Challenge, Kansas City’s proposal aims to spur momentum on several projects, including a new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line and regulations and infrastructure for autonomous vehicles. In addition to these potential projects, Kansas City has a number of other Smart City projects and partnerships already in place. For example, the city is working with Cisco Systems on a 2.2-mile downtown streetcar line that will provide Wi-Fi and other digital services for the public. Funds are also to be used for expanding the bikeshare program, developing regulations for self-driving cars, and for safety.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Partnering with Alleghany County, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, the Port Authority, and other community stakeholders, the City of Pittsburgh’s proposal builds off of existing work. The city intends to use the funding on “adaptive transportation systems that evolve over time” and to pilot a new program, “Smart Spines,” which uses sensors to gather data on transportation corridors. The data collected from Smart Spines could be used in several ways. The city could develop new uses for transportation modes and improve mobility in underserved neighborhoods. The data would also improve safety and enhance traveler information.

Portland, Oregon

Through the Smart City Challenge, Portland, who partnered with the Portland Bureau of Transportation, intends to implement Ubiquitous Mobility for Portland (UB Mobile PDX), which uses a number of smart technology options to consolidate and make accessible mobility data. UB Mobile PDX consists of three primary components: The Marketplace, the User Interface, and the Open Data Cloud. Portland envisions several “Vision Projects” that will ensure that the City gets the most out of the UB Mobile PDX. These projects include Wi-Fi on transit vehicles and stations, a partnership to implement a driver-assistance and collision avoidance system for transit vehicles, pilots for connected and shared vehicles, and implementation of smart-grid technologies.

San Francisco, California

San Francisco’s proposal highlights how the city struggles with mobility challenges. The funding from the Smart City Challenge would enable to city “to establish shared mobility, public transit, and connected automated vehicle technology” that are all intended to reduce congestion and free up parking, especially on city streets. A key component of San Francisco’s proposal was the Community Mobility Challenge initiative, through which shared mobility services and new transportation technologies would be implemented as pilot programs in neighborhoods across the city.

Next steps for the Smart Cities Challenge

The seven finalists will now have to submit a detailed technical and budget application for the final $40 million award. A team of experts from across the U.S. DOT departments will review the applications, documenting their strengths, weaknesses, and risks. Eventually, a list of recommended and not recommended applicants will be presented to the Secretary of Transportation for final selection. U.S. DOT will announce the final winner in summer 2016.

(Photo credit: USDOT)

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