Following an intense competition and months of review, Columbus, Ohio has just been announced as the winner of the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Smart City Challenge, besting 78 initial applicants and 7 semi-finalists in a contest to receive $40 million from DOT and $10 million from Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Philanthropy to create a model urban transportation system.
In addition to significant funding from DOT and Vulcan, the Smart City Challenge has also drawn support from some of the largest and most innovative companies in the space. The official list of sponsors includes automakers, infrastructure providers, and technology companies, including Nissan, General Motors, Lyft, BYD, Daimler, EVgo, ChargePoint, Proterra, Bridj, and a range of others.
The deteriorating state of the transportation system is all the more confounding, given the technology that already exists to improve it.
This partnership, between the public and private sectors, comes at a pivotal time for the transportation system. The Smart City Challenge seeks to solve problems that are quickly becoming ubiquitous nationwide: Severe traffic congestion, an uptick in traffic fatalities, surging gasoline demand, and limited access to public transportation in low income communities are worsening, with severe implications for economic productivity and personal safety. Importantly, these trends are persisting in spite of rapid technological developments, not only in electric and autonomous vehicles, but mobility services such as Uber and Lyft, and transit access apps like moovel. The deteriorating state of the transportation system is all the more confounding, given the technology that already exists to improve it.
“With roads across the country increasingly congested, it’s essential that cities find smart ways to address 21st century challenges by leveraging new technology and data,” says Jill Ingrassia, Managing Director of Government Relations at AAA. “The DOT’s Smart City Challenge has served as a catalyst for cities doubling-down on transportation innovation, and Columbus is a sterling example of how urban centers can take immediate action to improve safety and efficiency.”
“So goes this city so goes America. There is a lot of cool stuff out there in the world of technology. Columbus showed us how those technologies related to the solving of those challenges of a community.”
However, the benefits of this challenge should not be limited to Columbus. The concept of the Smart City Challenge hinges on developing a replicable and scalable model that can be applied nationwide. “So goes this city so goes America,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx at the event today in Columbus’s Linden neighborhood—a lower-income district that has been specifically targeted for revitalization under the plan. “There is a lot of cool stuff out there in the world of technology. Columbus showed us how those technologies related to the solving of those challenges of a community.”
In March, at the South by Southwest festival in Texas, the cities of Austin, Columbus, Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland, and San Francisco were announced as the seven semi-finalists by DOT. The proposals of these cities focused on applying technology to correct a range of transportation inefficiencies and, in some cases, completely revitalizing urban centers and expanding transportation access for low-income communities.
Additionally, the city’s plan included a strategy for connecting the unemployed or underemployed with centers of economic productivity through creation of robust transit corridors.
The Columbus proposal was not only matched by $90 million in funding from the local business community, but also leveraged smart grid technology, smart sensor data, commitments from over 50 local business leaders to use and install electric vehicles and chargers, and a plan to improve access for low-income communities to ride-sharing and other public transportation—with new approaches to include citizens who don’t have a cell phone. Additionally, the city’s plan included a strategy for connecting the unemployed or underemployed with centers of economic productivity through creation of robust transit corridors. And the city’s Linden neighborhood—one of the poorest in the city—will serve as a case study to work with local private and public services to offer more efficient mobility options, including the use of autonomous transit.
“We are thrilled to be America’s first Smart City. Our collaboration between public, private and nonprofit sectors is the perfect example of how we lift up our residents and connect all communities,” said Mayor Andrew Ginther. “Smart Columbus will deliver an unprecedented multimodal transportation system that will not only benefit the people of central Ohio, but potentially all mid-sized cities. I am grateful to President Obama, Secretary Foxx, the U.S. Department of Transportation, all of our partners and especially the Smart Columbus team.”
Electric vehicles a cornerstone of Columbus’s plan
“Columbus showed incredible vision and leadership in developing a community-wide investment to become a national leader in EV adoption. We look forward to working with Columbus to make it a great place to plug in and drive,” said Ben Prochazka, Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Electrification Coalition (EC).
The EC, as implementation partner for the Smart City Challenge, will assist Columbus in EV deployment by applying lessons learned through the group’s existing deployment communities—Drive Electric Orlando, and Drive Electric Northern Colorado. Drive Electric Orlando is an electric vehicle rental program in Orlando, Florida, which encourages tourists to rent electric vehicles and includes features like free priority parking at the city’s many theme parks, and access to charging stations at a wide range of hotels and resorts.
The EC, as implementation partner for the Smart City Challenge, will assist Columbus in EV deployment by applying lessons learned through the group’s existing deployment communities—Drive Electric Orlando, and Drive Electric Northern Colorado.
Drive Electric Northern Colorado (DENC) is a successful deployment community in Fort Collins and Loveland, where electric vehicle adoption rates are 2-3 times the national average. DENC leverages partnerships with local businesses and dealerships, consumer education, Colorado’s state tax incentive, and the support of the municipal government to drive local enthusiasm for electric transportation.
“The EC has spent the last four years taking the policy and strategic principles developed in the Electrification Roadmap and Fleet Electrification Roadmap, and putting them to the test in the real world,” added Prochazka. “Our living labs have allowed us to innovate, refine, and perfect EV accelerator programs that will be brought to Columbus to enable electrified transportation in a way that has never been seen before—the city will be the 2.0 version of our work. We will create better consumer outreach and experiential marketing, better charging, better employer engagement, better fleet transit, and better carsharing.”
The concept of an electric vehicle deployment community was introduced in the EC’s seminal 2008 report, The Electrification Roadmap. The concept was simple—that in order to accelerate the commercial deployment of electric vehicles and more rapidly sever our dependence on oil, cities should compete in a “race to the top” for federal funding to integrate all the components of an ideal ecosystem for electric vehicles in targeted locations.