More than 170 residents of the Linden community accepted this invitation to share their ideas about how Smart Columbus can help their neighborhood.
City of Columbus More than 170 residents of the Linden community accepted this invitation to share their ideas about how Smart Columbus can help their neighborhood.

Having won the U.S. DOT’s first Smart City Challenge award, a program worth $40 million, the City of Columbus, Ohio, is working on preliminary systems engineering and documentation, and recently began community dialogues with residents.

Smart Columbus calls for implementing technologies such as connected infrastructure, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, an integrated data platform, autonomous vehicles, and more. The city has four years to complete pilot projects, which will begin later this year.

“Our application approach was to come up with ideas that are replicable and scalable,” says Department of Public Service Assistant Director Jeff Ortega.

  • Replicable: Programs implemented in Columbus, population 800,000, that would work in other mid-sized cities.
  • Scalable: Programs tested in the initial residential, commercial, and downtown districts that could be expanded across the city.

The plan meets the Smart City Challenge to “do more than merely introduce new technologies onto streets, [but] to boldly envision new solutions that would change the face of transportation by closing the gap between rich and poor, capturing the needs of both young and old, and bridging the digital divide.”

Affordable mobility

Focusing on an underserved neighborhood where the infant mortality rate is four times the national average, the Central Ohio Transit Authority will enhance bus service with a “smart corridor” providing affordable transportation to jobs, prenatal care, and other services.

When buses equipped with vehicle-to-infrastructure units alert smart traffic signals of their approach, the signals will lengthen the green light to give passengers priority access. Also, electric self-driving shuttles will be deployed on three routes to expand bus system reach.

Other planned features along the route include smart street lighting, traveler information and payment kiosks, and free public WiFi. A smart pass system will give all residents access to various transportation options with a smartphone or pass.

Columbus also will test connected vehicle technology, including automated truck platooning, traffic signal management, and notices of parking availability, in freight districts.

The city plans to expand its investment in electric vehicle charging stations, electrify its light-duty vehicle fleet, and work with businesses to do the same.

Funding and partners

In addition to $40 million in federal funding, Columbus initially raised $90 million from the Columbus Partnership, a group of local businesses, and received a $10 million grant from Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc. Foundation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the de-carbonization of the electric supply and transportation sectors.

In February 2017, the city announced additional commitments that bring the total pot of monetary and in-kind contributions to more than $340 million.

“We’ve more than quadrupled the size of the acceleration fund,” says Mayor Andrew Ginther. “By the end of 2020, I want this to be a billion-dollar effort.”

In addition to the Columbus Partnership, partners include American Electric Power, Battelle, Central Ohio Transit Authority, Econolite, Experience Columbus, Fleetcarma, Franklin County, Greater Columbus Arts Council, HERE, Honda, Inrix, Mass Factory, Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, Ohio DOT, Ohio State University Center for Automotive Research, Peloton, and Sparc.

The U.S. DOT’s partners are Amazon Web Services, AT&T, Autodesk, Continental, DC Solar, Mobileye, NXP, Sidewalk Labs, U.S. Department of Energy, and Vulcan.

“Through the broad mobilization of community partners, our intention is to see that these efforts live beyond the grant program and become self-sustaining,” says Ortega. “Columbus is well on its way.”

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