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Realistic Goals, Measurable Outcomes Lead to Columbus Smart City Challenge Win

Ryan Citron — July 21, 2016

Bangkok SkylineOhio won its first major victory of the year when LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the state’s first major sports title in over 50 years. Soon after, the City of Columbus, Ohio was officially announced as the winner of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Smart City Challenge. The city is set to receive a total of $140 million, with combined contributions from the DOT ($40 million), Seattle-based company Vulcan ($10 million), and a group of local businesses called the Columbus Partnership ($90 million).

One of the keys to Columbus winning the competition and beating out the better-known technology centers of San Francisco, Austin, and Denver was the city’s ability to demonstrate that its plan would result in increasing poor residents’ access to new transportation options. The city has proposed numerous solutions in this area. A few of the key proposals were:

  • An autonomous vehicle program that would transport residents from the Linden neighborhood—which has 3 times more unemployment compared to the city average—to a nearby employment center.
  • The creation of transit cards for low-income populations to use for ride-hailing or carsharing services, with or without having smartphones or bank accounts.
  • The building of smart corridors through wireless technology, which enables a new bus rapid transit (BRT) system that is more safe and efficient for high numbers of users (it’s important note that Columbus is also the largest city in the United States to not offer rail service).

Several of these transport initiatives are also expected to be integrated with improved access to healthcare services to help address the high infant mortality rates in many of Columbus’ poorer neighborhoods.

Other components of Columbus’ transport plan include an increase in electric vehicle (EV) charging stations throughout the city, enhancing smart grid technology by using EVs as distributed energy storage devices, expanding the municipal EV fleet, and securing 50 of the city’s CEOs to personally commit to buying and driving EVs, as well as installing charging stations for their employees.

Additional Funding Sources Also Crucial

While a focus on increasing poor neighborhood access to reliable and affordable transportation options was vital to the final awarding of the Smart City Challenge competition to Columbus, the $90 million pledged by the Columbus Partnership (if the city was to be selected) also played a major role. Financing the development of smart city projects continues to be the most significant challenge in the market, as outlined in Navigant Research’s recently published Smart Cities report. The guaranteed added investment by the Columbus Partnership made the city a highly realistic option for successful implementation and more likely to achieve the outcomes that were highlighted in its final proposal.

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