Smart Cities And What It Means to You

     Today, 68 percent of adults in the U.S. have a smartphone, up from 35 percent in 2011. Tablet computer ownership has also increased to 45 percent among adults, according to 2016 survey data from the Pew Research Center.

     According to that same research, smartphone ownership is nearing its saturation point with some groups: 86 percent of those ages 18-29 have a smartphone, as do 83 percent of those 30-49 and 87 percent of those living in households earning $75,000 or more annually.

     Two years ago, the federal government sat up and took notice, looking for ways to tap into that technology use to help cities and towns across America.

     So, in December of 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation launched its first-ever Smart City Challenge, asking mid-sized cities across America to develop ideas for an integrated, first-of-its-kind smart transportation system that would use data, applications, and technology to help people and goods move more quickly, cheaply, and efficiently. Some 78 cities across the U.S. submitted applications – Columbus among them. And on March 12, 2016, seven finalists were announced. Columbus was joined by Austin, Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland and San Francisco.

     Columbus’ challenge? Each year in Franklin County, 150 babies die before their first birthday. And, twice as many African-American babies are likely to die as white children. In Columbus, these deaths are concentrated in neighborhoods in which there are lower levels of income, education and health. One neighborhood loses four times as many babies as in the neighborhood next door. So the goal was to reduce infant mortality by 40 percent and to cut the health disparity gap in half by 2020. All with the use of technology.

     Columbus posed a very aggressive and unique solution in its final application. It plans to leverage a new central connected traffic signal and integrated transportation data system to develop a suite of applications to deliver enhanced human services to residents and visitors. The city plans to integrate an electronic appointments and scheduling platform for doctor visits with transit tracking so that rescheduling is automated and expecting mothers need not wait weeks to reschedule appointments. These applications include a multi-modal trip planning application, a common payment system for all transportation modes, a smartphone application for assistance to persons with disabilities, and integration of travel options at key locations for visitors.

     Columbus will also establish a smart corridor connecting underserved neighborhoods to jobs and services. The smart corridor will enhance Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service by installing smart traffic signals, smart street lighting, traveler information and payment kiosks, and free public Wi-Fi along the route. Six electric, accessible, autonomous vehicles will be deployed to expand the reach of the BRT system to additional retail and employment centers.

     The winner, and the recipient of some $40 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation, was announced in June of 2016 – Columbus. Including other grant and partnerships, the project’s total dollar commitment quickly rose to $140 million which will span the four years of the project.

     “Columbus put forward an impressive, holistic vision for how technology can help all residents move better and access opportunity,” the USDOT touts on its website. “The City of Columbus proposed a comprehensive, integrated plan addressing challenges in residential, commercial, freight, and downtown districts using a number of new technologies, including connected infrastructure, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, an integrated data platform, autonomous vehicles, and more. Columbus plans to work closely with residents, community and business leaders, and technical experts to implement their plan.”

     On Wednesday, May 24, a number of Central Ohio IFMA Chapter members listened as a number of regional presenters put forth Columbus’ plan, focusing in on the economic impact on the Central Ohio Region – including facility managers. The event was sponsored by Power Connect, Dynamix Energy Services, and GraybaR, and was held at the Electrical Trades Center on Goodale Boulevard in Downtown Columbus.

     “We are striving to be a model city for smartness, for the country,” Randall Bowman, Assistant Public Service Director for the City of Columbus, told those in attendance. “That is something the USDOT wants out of the City of Columbus – being the center of innovation and IT and electrification.”

     With the deployment of its plan, the City of Columbus hopes to provide increased safety, easier access to mobility options, ladders of opportunity, and a decrease in impact on the climate. Through enabling technologies, its vision is to allow for greater access to jobs, provide smarter logistics, connect residents in Columbus, connect visitors to Columbus, and pave the way to sustainable transportation with little to no impact on the environment.

     Projects included in the deployment include upgraded traffic signals that are both integrated and smart (which will include some 565 miles of fiber optic cable); an integrated data exchange that will help people find parking spaces easier and measure the effectiveness of traffic changes on traffic flow, for example; provide for enhanced human services through new apps for smartphone users; and build an electrical vehicle infrastructure for easier and more convenient charging of electric cars.

    “We won largely because we said Columbus is like any other city that is striving to be smarter,” Bowman told the group. “We are composed of neighborhoods – residential neighborhoods and commercial neighborhoods, like Easton. We have a downtown – every city has a downtown. And we have a logistics district.”

     The deployment of the grants provide for enormous opportunities, said Bowman, a message he is trying to spread widely.

     “The grant is merely the seed opportunity,” he added. Due to further commitments since last June, the project is now funded to the tune of nearly $400 million to date.

     “And I think that’s going to continue going up,” said Bowman. “You better believe that’s going to have a tremendous impact on Columbus, our residents, our businesses, and that value is going to make this number grow tremendously. With that extra-fast, higher capacity communication, we will be able to start doing more of these connected technology projects, well beyond the grant.”

     Other presenters May 24 included Scott Jackson from GraybaR, Sean Weber of Dynamix, Jean Carter Ryan of the Franklin County Finance Authority, Teresa Snyder of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, Joe Paterniti and Jamie Feltes of KeyBank Energy.

     For more information about the program, how to get involved and how to take advantage of the many opportunities, visit