What is this Smart City Challenge of which you speak?

If you haven’t heard that Columbus won the $40 million federal Smart City grant, then you must have been living under a rock for the past week. Either that you you were still reveling in the Cav’s glory and you haven’t come back down to earth yet.
Either way, you might be wondering, “What is the Smart City grant?”
Answer: It’s money from the Federal Government meant to help one city fund and integrate innovative transportation technologies – self-driving cars, connected vehicles, and more.
At least 78 cities applied and Columbus was announced as a top 7 finalist in March of this year.
You can also find the Columbus Smart City Vision Statement here. It outlines four foundational plans:

  1. Connect Columbus – This is the city’s long range multimodal transportation plan. The purpose of this plan is to improve safety, reduce congestion, promote equitable access to transportation and to foster economic development, public health and environmental responsibility. It’s a collaboration between lots of city agencies like COTA and others who’s goal is to make a community that is more  bicycle and pedestrian friendly. This part of the plan is currently in the “Design” phase. Read more about the Connect Columbus Summary.
  2. insight 2050 – This is a detailed look at four potential scenarios for the future of Central Ohio based on projected demographic shifts in the region. Basically, this is a look at the next 30 years in Central Ohio and how the government will continue to be proactive (rather than reactive) to traffic patterns, neighborhood walkability, and transportation choices. It provides scenario testing tools and data to enable the decision makers to understand the impact of future land use. It’s currently in it’s first phase.
  3. Metropolitan Transportation Plan – This is a a federally required long range planning document that brings together local governments to identify transportation goals, needs, strategies and projects over the next two decades. You can view the interactive map here to see what kinds of projects this transportation plan will undertake. It includes lots of additional bicycle and pedestrian walkways as well as an addition of a new freeway and lots of freeway widening.
  4. The Next Gen Plan – is COTA’s long-range planning effort to identify transit needs and opportunities for 2025, 2040 and 2050. It includes a prioritized list of bus and rail projects along with what technology to employ. According to their site, they are halfway to completing this plan. Starting this winter and extending into spring of 2017 COTA will provide recommendations and an implementation plan for how to move forward. Their vision includes more frequent bus services, more urban circulators like CBUS, more freeway commuter services, better connecting suburban areas, and better transit for the elderly and people with disabilities. See a draft of their map here. 

Check out the Columbus pitch video below to see how Columbus plans on using this money.

One interesting portion of the proposal is an idea to pilot a program that would use self-driving vehicles to close the gap in providing “last mile connectivity” from park-and-ride bus transit centers. Basically the plan recommends Easton as the place to try this. Riders who use public transportation usually fall just short of their final destinations. So this plan would allow for driverless cars to get these commuters to their job centers including Huntington Bank, Lane Bryant, 31 Gifts, Express, L Brands and others.
Some of the other new programs in the proposal focus on app-based technology, such as industry-based applications that would help cargo carrying semi drivers better navigate the Rickenbacker logistics hub, and an app developed with Experience Columbus that would help convention-goers gain real-time information on local traffic, parking and transit options. The Columbus proposal also seeks funding for the continued conversion of the city’s fleet of vehicles to run on compressed natural gas and electricity, and improvements to the Cleveland Avenue Bus Rapid Transit line.
What is even more awesome about winning this grant, is that The Columbus Parntership announced in May that a wide range of corporate partners had pledged an additional $90 million to supplement the federal money. So what has begun as plans and studies and really cool research project, will officially begin to be put into action to help Columbus become the Smart City of the future in regards to public transportation.

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