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Smart City Challenge: 7 proposals for the future of transportation

Michelle Davidson | June 17, 2016
Finalist cities in the U.S. DOT’s Smart City Challenge make their final pitches for the $40 million prize, offer a glimpse into future urban travel

Self-driving vehicles, traffic lights that adjust based on vehicle flow, bike sharing and smart pavement that provides public Wi-Fi access—those are just a few of the ideas for making cities smarter.

Not only have municipalities embraced the smart city concept—using technology to manage a city’s assets, improve the efficiency of services, reduce consumption of resources, reduce costs and improve the quality of life—but many are making it a reality.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has joined in to help cities implement smart city ideas, and it is offering a $40 million grant to the winner of its Smart Cities Challenge. The prize will go to the city that has the best plan for integrating innovative technologies such as self-driving cars, connected vehicles and smart sensors into their transportation network.

Recently the seven finalists made their final pitches, offering their ideas for the future of transportation. Below is a look at what they propose, including their video pitches.

The winner, which will be announced this month, will also receive $10 million from Vulcan Inc., as well as expertise, software and products from several companies involved in transportation, communication and environmental technologies. 

Austin, Texas—Connected and automated vehicles, smart stations, mobility marketplace

Thanks to Austin’s economic energy, which includes a job market that grew during the 2008 recession while other cities’ shrank, the city has more people than ever living there. In fact, it has twice as many people as it did 30 years ago. Add to that the visitors who flock there for its music and social scene, and you have an urban mobility mess.

To fix the problem, the city has proposed several smart city ideas, including the following:

  • Connected and automated cars: This builds on work Google is already doing with its self-driving cars. Austin’s proposal includes a prototype autonomous shuttle from the airport to the nearby smart station.
  • Smart stations: These transit hubs bring together a variety of transportation services to help visitors. They serve as centers for deploying autonomous and connected cars, taxis and urban freight.
  • Mobility marketplace: The idea is to connect travelers to the best mobility option for them and provide integrated payment options, real-time travel information via an app or a kiosk.

Columbus, Ohio—Real-time transportation systems, smart transportation corridors

Columbus has a three-pronged approach for its future: to be a beautiful city, a healthy city and a prosperous city. That includes connecting all of its neighborhoods, designing safer streets, ensuring all residents have access to quality and affordable transportation, and reducing consumption and emissions.

To achieve those things, it has proposed 12 smart city initiatives, including the following: 

  • Real-time information about traffic and parking conditions and transit options to minimize traffic issues associated with major events or incidents. 
  • Smart corridors to improve transit service and efficiently. This may include traffic information boards and electronic signs warning of incidents and providing detours.
  • Expanded usage of electric and smart vehicles. 


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