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Frontline: “Smart Cities” Use Technology & Data to Improve Citizens’ Lives

The DOT has awarded a grant to Columbus, Ohio, so that the city can employ numerous “smart mobility” technologies that will help improve citizens’ lives, with the added benefit of showcasing the city to the tech community.

Q3 2016
After winning the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)'s Smart City Challenge — earning a $50 million grant to help fund future smart mobility projects earlier this year — the city of Columbus, Ohio, is in the early stages of planning how the funds will be used. The city was able to raise another $90 million from businesses, local agencies, and investors to augment the federal grant.

This is “pretty big news” for the City of Columbus, according to Kenny McDonald, president and CEO of Columbus 2020, the region’s main economic development agency. He recently told The Columbus Dispatch, “Over the long term, as [these projects are] executed by local providers and also companies around the world, it's going to provide exposure to the tech community of what a terrific place Columbus is.”

According to Rory McGuiness, deputy director of Administration for the City of Columbus’ Department of Development, “We'll see a lot of projects within four years. We're in the early stages of putting together the timeline for when these projects will be implemented.”

Over the long term, as [these projects are] executed by local providers and also companies around the world, it's going to provide exposure to the tech community of what a terrific place Columbus is. Kenny McDonald, president and CEO of Columbus 2020 The DOT designated Columbus to be the first city in the U.S. to fully employ a number of promising, new technologies — self-driving cars, connected vehicles, and smart sensors — into its transportation network. Also, the city and other local governments in the 22-county region have created a partnership to establish Central Ohio as a high-tech hub and research center for smart mobility and transportation advancements. The cities of Dublin and Marseilles, along with Union County, are working together to develop a 28-mile section of U.S. Route 33 to serve as the testing grounds for autonomous and connected vehicles. The installation of the fiber infrastructure was scheduled to begin in the second half of this year. The fiber will link to educational institutions and business owners along the corridor, and will also serve as infrastructure for testing smart vehicles.

Honda R&D Americas is going to provide the city with electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles for testing along Route 33 between Columbus and East Liberty. Honda will help with data integration, autonomous vehicles, connected vehicles, and implementing advanced sensors and cameras at intersections, and provide input on electric vehicle charging requirements and stations.

Plans also call for the installation of dedicated short-range communications (DSRC), AV, and Mobileye Shield+™ technologies to reduce accidents caused by human error. DSRC will be deployed along 50 miles of roadway, on 175 traffic signals, and on 3,000 vehicles.

The Ohio State University Center for Automotive Research (CAR), along with several other universities, is partnering with Illinois-based Innova UEV to make its two-passenger Innova UEV available to students. The university is providing technical expertise to make the Innova UEV an autonomous vehicle. Local officials say one of the Columbus area's unique assets that helped it win the competition is the Transportation Research Center, a 4,500-acre, independent automotive proving ground, with an affiliation to Ohio State University. With a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) presence on-site, it's a one-of-a-kind facility, McGuiness notes.

While the project priorities have not been set, the city has begun construction on bus rapid transit infrastructure. The bus transit project will include development of neighborhood hubs to connect the various modes of transit in the city, McGuiness says, along with electric vehicle charging stations at neighborhood transit hubs.

We're a city that has been built around driving places. We have no public transit except buses. Carla Bailo, assistant vice president, Mobility Research and Business Development at Ohio State University Carla Bailo, assistant vice president, Mobility Research and Business Development at Ohio State University, says another key to winning the grant competition was mapping out a democratic approach, with the goal being “access and mobility for all, including all underserved communities. We are trying to find out where we have problems and find ways to improve on those issues.”

Bailo continues, “We're a city that has been built around driving places. We have no public transit except buses.” In the low-income, Linden area the city is installing street lamps with wi-fi capability and neighborhood kiosks, and developing an app for a one-payment system so that users don't have to set up accounts with all of the different mobility services.

The “first and last mile” transit web will also include an automated vehicle shuttle service. “There will be a ton of research and development required before we put those shuttles into place,” Bailo says.

“This is an excellent opportunity for the city to be able to provide access for all — which is something that always gets lost when we talk about smart cities. 'Smart cities' means using technology and data to improve citizens’ lives. Otherwise, you are just employing technology for technology's sake. It's a matter of 'How are we going to fill the gaps we currently see?' versus creating a utopia in 2020. This is really about our citizens and improving lives,” she concludes.
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