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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

Denver—Mobility on demand, electric vehicles

Denver’s goal is to connect more with less. As its organizers wrote in the city’s proposal, “By connecting users, systems, and infrastructure with technology and information, our Smart City Program will generate fewer emissions, with fewer injuries and fatalities, and provide more transportation options and a higher quality of life.”

The smart city initiatives it proposed to achieve that include the following:

  • Enterprise data management ecosystem: The system will incorporate data from many sources to provide a real-time picture of travel in the city, including where people are moving and how they’re getting there.
  • Mobility on demand enterprise: Using information in the data management ecosystem, the city wants to create an app and interactive kiosks that integrate all public and private transportation providers. The goal is to help people decide the best transportation option for them.
  • Transportation electrification: The city wants to add 103 electric vehicles for its fleet, including buses, taxis and car-sharing vehicles. To support them, the city plans to install 120 charging stations citywide.

Kansas City, Missouri—Autonomous shuttles, pedestrian mobility apps, smart street lighting

In recent years, Kansas City has experienced a city-wide revitalization. It has a thriving technical sector, a vibrant arts scene and the championship baseball team Kansas City Royals. It is no longer a fly-over city, and the growth in population and visitors is affecting the ability to easily travel in and around it.

To improve the situation, the city has proposed several smart city initiatives, including the following:

  • Autonomous shuttles will be tested at the city’s airport with the potential to also run downtown.
  • Pedestrian mobility apps will inform drivers if a pedestrian with a disability is crossing the street and will give the person more time to cross the street.
  • Sensors will be used to monitor and improve mobility, emissions and safety, as well as provide smart street lighting.

Pittsburgh—Intelligent freight management, autonomous shuttle network, travel and accident reporting app

When Pittsburgh’s highway system was built, it provided a quick way into the business district but it created problems that the city is trying to fix today—bisected neighborhoods and increased asthma rates of people living near the highways, to name a couple. Plus, streets originally built for horse carts need to accommodate cars, busses, freight vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians.

The city hopes smart city initiatives can help resolve the problems and has proposed several ideas. Its proposals include:

  • Surtrac: This real-time adaptive signal control system will monitor traffic and control lights on the streets that feed into downtown Pittsburgh. As part of the system, traffic lights would use sensors to identify transit and freight vehicles and allow them to move through the signals quicker, thereby reducing pollution that would occur while the vehicles are idling at a stop light.
  • Autonomous shuttle: The city proposes using Second Avenue, one of the main streets that goes into the city, to test the use of self-driving autonomous transit vehicles. A charging canopy would be included.


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