Anthony Townsend defined “smart cities” as places where information technology is combined with infrastructure, architecture, everyday objects and our bodies to address social, economic and environmental challenges. Just the name makes everyone want to be a “smart city”- who would want to live in a “dumb city”? Creating that smart city is not as easy as it sounds as the technology investments often bring along substantial costs and impose dramatic changes in transportation, development and government delivery services.
Columbus, Ohio gets a chance to be a pioneer in the development of smart city infrastructure. Columbus was awarded the Smart Cities grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Columbus beat out six other finalist cities to receive $50 million in grant funding from the federal government to develop Columbus into the nation’s leading example for intelligent transportation systems. Local private sector matches and funding from the Vulcan Foundation shot this investment up to $90 M.
This $90 M project offers opportunities for technology and construction companies not just for one contract but to be on the ground floor in the development of a new transportation and development model for American cities. The Columbus Smart City Program uses tools ranging from “big data” application as well as a range of cutting edge technology revolutionizing the transportation industry in mass transit as well as with the logistic industry.
Columbus’ application focused on the partnership and collaboration between the organizations, private and public, that are going to support and implement the Smart Cities grant. Autonomous vehicles are a major theme of the Smart Cities Grant however, Columbus’ application focused on other attainable programs that can be implemented to make an immediate difference in the community. The application focused on the following 5 strategies:
- Smart Corridor to Provide Access to Jobs;
- Real-time and Integrated Data for Smart Logistics;
- Connected Visitors;
- Connected Citizens; and
- Sustainable Transportation Options.
The first smart corridor will be along Cleveland Avenue in Northeast Columbus. “With a network of integrated electronic signs, sensors, and other state-of-the-art elements this project will enhance safety for all road users, improve travel time reliability and reduce accidents and associated congestion.” The Central Ohio Transit Authority is working on expanding its onboard Automated Vehicle Location technology to provide accurate real time location data for its busses. To address the last mile connection issue from transit centers, self-driving vehicles will be implemented at Easton to take riders to their final destination.
Real-time and integrated data for smart logistics is focused on helping the Rickenbacker Inland Port use technology and data to become the leader in logistics innovation. The projects that will support this effort will provide real time regional traffic conditions and truck routing data via smart phone apps and current routing services. This will help improve routing service for trucks in the region. This real time data will help provide, via smart phone apps, delivery site locations for reserving sites in select dense locations in Columbus.
Columbus is a regional destination for sporting events, shopping, medical services, arts and cultural events. The Smart City Grant application made sure to address the improvements that are going to be made for the visitors of Columbus. The City plans on developing a smart phone app that provides traffic conditions and routing information, transit options, parking conditions and availability, and event information, all in real time. This app will be promoted to visitors as an added benefit to help them discover Columbus.
The underlying driver of Columbus’ application is helping to improve the isolated neighborhoods that have endured economic and mobility challenges that limit residents’ ability to access jobs, health care, and education. The projects that are proposed in the Connected Citizens section of the application address cash based citizen access to mobility services. The solution is to work with debit card type service offering while understanding other barriers such as smart phone ownership and WiFi availability. The focus area has a low number of car dependent households, so increasing and/or introducing personal transit (Uber, Car2Go) service offerings is a proposed solution.
Lastly, the application highlights what Columbus will do to address sustainable transportation options. The city will encourage electric vehicle (EV) usage while working with the current car sharing service providers to convert to EV fleet by installing EV recharging stations. The city wants to expand AEP’s Smart Grid to other parts of the City. This Smart Grid project will incorporate EV storage capability. Columbus wants to make having an electric vehicle as convenient as possible to encourage citizens to make the change.
An additional focus of other smart cities programs have focused on the delivery of government services to promote efficiency in the use of information technology. E-commerce for governments is a struggle in the age of Amazon as taxpayers have high-expectations for the web based government transactions. Government struggles with security, privacy and public record laws that impact that operation.
The Columbus Smart City Program is an opportunity to learn how transportation, development and government will operate in the 21st Century and could prove an interesting model for cities across the United States.