Columbus, Ohio, has been selected as the winner of the U.S. DOT’s Smart City Challenge, beating out six other cities for $50 million to implement a plan to improve mobility through technology. Businesses and public organizations in Central Ohio have already pledged an additional $90 million to further the plan, which includes creating a new bus rapid transit system, testing driverless vehicles, and increasing access to services like Uber and car2go to connect low-income residents to employers.
Columbus’ application boasted that it’s the fastest-growing Midwest city, in terms of jobs and population — but it remains the country’s largest city without a public mass transit system other than buses. Uber and Lyft are in town, but those options are often out of reach for low-income residents. Columbus’ plan focuses in particular on the Linden neighborhood, where a lack of transportation options limits residents’ access to jobs, healthcare and education. In the application, the city wrote that it intends to use Smart City funding to increase WiFi availability in the neighborhood, address the needs of cash-based residents, and work with private service providers on subsidies and eliminate other barriers for low-income users.
DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx was in Linden today to announce Columbus’ win. In a DOT post, he wrote, “Columbus’ proposal puts people first,” citing the fact that the city plans to measure the connectivity of its transportation infrastructure in part by linking it to the infant mortality rate.
Columbus has also pledged to improve a wide range of traffic and transit logistics, with a focus on providing better data to freight trucks to improve delivery systems while decreasing costs. Several “smart corridors” are proposed, which will use sensors and signal timing to improve traffic flow along the roads that connect residents to job growth at the edge of the city. The city also envisions open data and app development to create better transit information access for both visitors and residents, particularly in isolated neighborhoods. Electric vehicle usage will be encouraged by the installation of more EV charging stations and converting some of the city’s fleet to electric.
Having won the Smart City funding, the city of Columbus and area business leaders will form a nonprofit committee to figure out how to use the money over the next four years. Of the $50 million prize, $40 million is being furnished by DOT, and $10 million by Vulcan, a real estate venture founded by Paul Allen.
The remaining finalist cities — San Francisco, Austin, Denver, Pittsburgh, Portland and Kansas City, Missouri — will also receive some technical assistance from DOT in fulfilling aspects of their plans.
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.