The Fuse

Smart City Challenge Finalists Make Their Cases to Department of Transportation

by Alex Tzavellas | June 20, 2016

Mayors of the seven cities selected as finalists for the Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge have given their final pitches to Secretary Anthony Foxx. The winning city will become the country’s first to fully integrate innovative technologies such as self-driving and connected vehicles into its transportation network. The winner will receive as much as $40 million in government funding and up to $10 million from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc. to achieve its vision in transforming the city’s transportation future. Since launching the challenge in December, the number of cities has been narrowed down from 78 applicants to seven finalists—Austin, Columbus, Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland, and San Francisco.

The winning city will become the country’s first to fully integrate innovative technologies such as self-driving and connected vehicles into its transportation network.

The ten-minute pitches from the seven mayors were as varied as the size and geography of the cities they represent, highlighting the distinct problems each city’s transportation infrastructure faces. For cities like Austin, Denver, and San Francisco, the challenges focus around overwhelming population growth. That trend is in stark contrast to the challenges faced by Columbus, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Portland, which are seeking economic and social transformation.

Vulcan’s contribution in this project, beyond the funding, has been to provide technical assistance and guidance to the cities to improve their chances for the competition. The company, along with the DOT, wants to create “a first-of-its-kind” transportation system that will show to other cities “what’s possible” by bringing about innovative technological ideas, environmentally-friendly vehicles that spur mobility in ways never seen and improve the quality of live for the city’s residents. As implementation partner, Vulcan is also working with the Electrification Coalition who has unique experience working with cities to create dramatic multimodal shifts in their transportation systems, providing analysis, implementing marketing and outreach plans, and offering overall support. Vulcan, along with the U.S. DOT and the Electrification Coalition, is hoping other cities will follow the winner’s example.

Austin, Texas

Recently, Austin has experienced rapid growth in population, jumping by 18 percent within five years, driven by the city’s eclectic “Keep Austin Weird” mantra and burgeoning technology scene. However, with major population growth comes numerous challenges for the city’s transportation sector.

With so many more drivers on the road and 2015 being a record year for traffic fatalities, safety has become a primary concern of Austin’s city leadership.

Austin routinely rates as one of the most congested cities in the country. Commuters suffer delays amounting to 52 hours per year. That number is projected to more than double in the next 20 years. With so many more drivers on the road and 2015 being a record year for traffic fatalities, safety has become a primary concern of Austin’s city leadership. The influx has not only increased congestion and safety concerns; the consequential urban sprawl has left many outlying, car-dependent areas and people—especially low-income residents—lacking viable transportation options. Some, in fact, have no access to transit at all.

To solve these problems, Austin has proposed a five-part mobility initiative:

  • Partnering with leading technology companies and leveraging regulations already in place, Austin seeks to implement the use of automated and connected vehicles such as on-demand automated vehicle services, automated car sharing, and unmanned vehicle delivery.
  • Austin plans on electrifying several public mass transit and high-mileage vehicle fleets that will be cost effective and convenient enough to start displacing personal vehicles.
  • Austin plans to use intelligent sensors to provide data and safety information to more efficiently operate and maintain its mobility network with real-time information.
  • Austin is looking to create transportation hubs on the perimeter of the city’s core in hopes of reducing single-occupant vehicle miles traveled in the downtown area. Hubs beyond the perimeter will target employment centers, high-traffic corridors, and lower-income neighborhoods.
  • Austin plans to pilot a mobile app that allows traveling on different services.

Denver, Colorado

Similar to Austin, Denver has experienced massive growth. Its population has risen from 467,610 in 1990 to 600,158 in 2010—an increase of more than 28 percent in 20 years. Population growth has exacerbated an already-strained transportation infrastructure. Additionally, Denver is one of the youngest cities in the country with millennials accounting for more than 21 percent of the population. This influx of a younger demographic has challenged the city with changing mobility patterns, not only for millennials but baby boomers as well. Lastly, a large portion of Denver’s population has limited access to transportation.

Denver seeks to address these challenges with a replicable, adaptable, and scalable world-class program with three core components:

  • Create a Mobility on Demand Enterprise to provide enhanced mobility choices and technologies for users that promote the use of autonomous and electric, on-demand, transportation services that residents can access throughout the city via kiosks.
  • Expand transportation electrification by building upon strong existing policies, committed advocacy, and state-wide environmental awareness. Additionally, the city will boost electric vehicle penetration by increasing the availability, accessibility, and convenience of charging technology.
  • Build a foundation of an intelligent vehicles through connectivity. This would help unleash the potential of automated vehicles by building connectivity that aligns the needs of residents and businesses with a safer, smarter and more environmentally friendly transportation network.

San Francisco, California

In San Francisco, travel times and associated costs are increasing, as are the affordability gap and social equity among transport choices.

In San Francisco, confined space and a pervasive car culture have created widespread congestion. Additionally, travel times and associated costs are increasing, as are the affordability gap and social equity among transport choices. Moreover, the city receives over 50,000 visitors a day, many of whom are regional. This situation has led to lack of information and coordination among transport services, causing neighborhood gridlock and negatively affecting parking.

San Francisco wants to implement a phased approach to address the complications from increasing traffic-related problems:

  • Accelerate the use of connected, automated, shared-use, fleet vehicles by using a transitional path to encourage innovation and usage.
  • Use a robust analytics platform to identify more real-time data from infrastructure elements such as roadside sensors, weather sensors, and connected vehicle fleets that the city can use to inform operational decision making.
  • Implement smarter land management and reduce the amount of cars on the road by repurposing public spaces, currently under-utilized as parking lots, into affordable housing, parks, and pedestrian amenities.

Columbus, Ohio

In Columbus, the city faces a diverse set of challenges. Most notably, it needs to provide underserved and unemployed members of the community with the ability to get jobs, bolstering the city’s broader economic growth.

Columbus plans to address these issues with five interrelated strategies:

  • Provide access to jobs for residents by developing and concentrating transit services on smart corridors that will connect the city’s employment centers with their work force.
  • Use analytic data to monitor traffic conditions improve operational efficiencies of freight movements throughout the city.
  • Fund a private-sector app that provides real-time information about traffic and parking conditions during major events in and around the city.
  • Use the Linden neighborhood—one of the poorest in the city—as a case study to work with local private and public services to offer more efficient mobility options, including the use of autonomous transit.
  • Incentivize the use of autonomous, connected, and electric vehicles through policy and practice changes.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Similar to Columbus, Pittsburgh, after its post-industrial decline, is undergoing a revitalization period with a burgeoning economic expansion and a growing population. However, the rapid development has posed significant problems for isolated and economically disenfranchised residents who have been bypassed by the city’s renewal while causing gridlock in other areas.

With a “If it’s not for all, it’s not for us” policy, Pittsburgh will address these challenges with a holistic approach:

  • With public transit’s limited reach, implement a network of autonomous shuttles to provide transportation options in isolated neighborhoods.
  • Partner with Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh to use data and enhanced vehicle technology to ease congestion.
  • Create a data archiving and sharing app aimed at integrating multi-modal data pertaining to public transit, ride-share, parking, incidents, weather, and freight.
  • Use the coming arrival of Uber’s driverless-car test course at an old steel mill site to draw more transportation technology jobs.

Kansas City, Missouri

While Kansas City is one of the world’s most connected cities with the installation of cutting-edge technology, much of the city still remains isolated by geography and an information void.

With nearly 20 percent of residents living below the poverty line, mostly centralized on the city’s east side, Kansas City is focusing on connecting those residents with both transportation and information the rest of the city has access to.

The city has a number of goals it seeks to achieve:

  • Advance the economic and social environment of underserved segments of the population by developing an already existing rapid transit line supplemented with ridesharing opportunities and vehicle share stations.
  • Deploy both connected and autonomous vehicle technologies in multiple areas of the city, improving the efficiency of travel.
  • Employ digital sensors on both bus stop shelters and buses to collected data that will help support efficient movement of traffic.

Portland, Oregon

While Portland has a long history of being an early adopter of new technology and transportation, there are large parts of the city that are nothing like the pedestrian-and-bike friendly, transit-oriented, green-leaning areas. Beyond the city’s center and beyond the outer most transit infrastructure, some areas have dangerous roads and no rail system or sidewalks.

In an effort to overcome the city’s legacy of transportation and economic development projects that have dismantled minority and low-income communities, Portland is planning to implement a multi-tier approach of expanding safe and reliable mobility.

  • Develop a navigation payment app that would tie together transit, ride-sharing, and other transportation options allowing Portlanders to compare various transportation options and pay for whatever option they choose.
  • Use driverless and connected car technology to reduce pedestrian deaths on unsafe roads. The city has the goal of moving toward zero traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries in the next 10 years.
  • Leverage the city’s expertise in urban planning to integrate electric vehicle charging stations into existing urban infrastructure such as street lights and parking meters.

The need for transportation solutions is urgent

“This is going to be an era when transportation is going to literally change in front our eyes.”

The need for transportation solutions is clear: The U.S. population is expected to increase by 70 million, or 22 percent, while freight tonnage on U.S. roads is projected to climb by 45 percent in the next 30 years. Citing these trends, Secretary Foxx said, “This is going to be an era when transportation is going to literally change in front our eyes.” The winners of the Smart City Challenge, which will be announced later this month, will go a long way in coming up with solutions to the many challenges ahead.