Columbus has a reputation as a test market for restaurants, menu items, business and even ideas (see: presidential elections) because its population is a microcosm of the nation’s. Our identity — as a place everyone can identify with — helped inspire the city’s bid for the federal Smart City Challenge.
“We know that what works in Columbus will work in other areas,” says Jeff Ortega, assistant director of the Columbus Department of Public Service. “Many cities look like Columbus, so the whole idea was to use approaches that would solve community problems and could also be replicated and scaled up.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation agreed and awarded Columbus a $40 million grant to get started on building the smart city of the future. Think smart road grids that know when a public bus is approaching a signal and gives the bus priority. Driverless cars that deliver workers to jobs they couldn’t otherwise reach without a car. Kiosks that connect residents to transportation via ridesharing and public transit options.
“This is a great investment in the city and the region’s future and one that’s going to benefit the Columbus community and region for many years to come,” says Ortega.
To help you get smart about #SmartColumbus, here’s a quick primer:
Private businesses and community partners have already pledged $90 million to the effort. Columbus will receive $40 million from the federal government, $10 million from Vulcan Inc. (Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s business) and $90 million from businesses and community partners in Columbus, for a total of $140 million in investments. “The goal here was to look for approaches that would solve problems in the community,” Ortega says. “The city has worked with a variety of actors, including the business community, Ohio State University, Battelle and community organizations to try to advance strategies to solve community problems.”
The plan calls for big investments in driverless vehicles. While other bidding cities would have invested at least part of the grant money in light rail, Columbus’ plan places an emphasis on driverless vehicles. Among other uses, city leaders envision these automated vehicles driving along set routes in and around Easton Town Center, picking up and delivering employees to the many jobs in the area, which is not easily walkable or accessible by other transit.
A troubled neighborhood will get a lift. Linden, a neighborhood directly north of the city center, faces a lot of challenges, like a high unemployment rate and low rate of car ownership. So how does smart transportation lift a neighborhood out of poverty? The city plans to build a “network of integrated electronic signs, sensors and other state-of-the-art elements” along Cleveland Avenue, a major road that cuts through Linden and other neighborhoods; the smart grid will ease traffic congestion and give priority access to public transportation. The plan calls for ways of increasing mobility for Linden residents and helping them reach jobs, health care and other needs outside the neighborhood.
Watch Columbus’ pitch video: