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Changes Made to Lineup of Smart Columbus Projects

Brent Warren Brent Warren Changes Made to Lineup of Smart Columbus Projects
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Changes have been made to the blueprint that has guided the city and its private sector partners since Columbus won the Smart City Challenge in June of 2016.

The original list of 15 Smart Columbus projects funded by the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) has been revised, with four of the projects being dropped all together, three being consolidated or changed in one way or another, and a new initiative added that’s meant to improve access to reliable transportation for expectant mothers.

Something called the Integrated Data Exchange – previously one of the 15 projects – has been renamed and given a promotion. It’s now called the Smart Columbus Operating System and will serve as the organizing principle for everything that is done under the USDOT umbrella.

“USDOT wanted to ensure that the Integrated Data Exchange was positioned as the anchor of the other projects – it needed to be approached as a single project” said Brandi Braun, Assistant Director for the Columbus Department of Public Service. “This change helps to illustrate the fact that the Operating System is integral to our development of a holistic, integrated, data-driven smart city approach.”

The changes came after a comprehensive review of the overall project by the Smart Columbus program management office and USDOT.

Here are the four projects that were cut, along with the reason for the change (quotes come from a document provided by Smart Columbus outlining the revised portfolio):

  • Transit Collision Avoidance System – The camera technology that this project was based on doesn’t work in the dark,  and most of the pedestrian or bike collisions with buses happen at night, according to the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA). “The City of Columbus and COTA are committed to reducing transit-related collisions and will continue to research potential solutions outside of the Smart City Challenge grant.”
  • Delivery Zone Availability – Existing regulations allow anyone to use delivery zones (not just commercial truck drivers), so it was decided that an app alerting drivers that a space is available to unload at a certain building would not be needed, especially if the spot can’t be reserved.
  • Smart Street Lights – The city’s Department of Utilities is already working to upgrade street lights citywide to LED, and is not relying on Smart City funding to do so. The Department of Technology, meanwhile, is working on a broadband access program that would negate the need for public wi-fi to be incorporated into the new streetlights (as called for in the original Smart City application).
  • Enhanced Permit Parking – This is another initiative that is being handled by a separate city department, in this case Public Service, which will be looking into potential changes to residential permits and efforts to streamline enforcement.

Two projects from the original 15 were essentially demoted; Oversize Vehicle Routing and Interstate Truck Parking. Both “will become a data source within the Smart Columbus Operating System,” as opposed to being pursued as independent projects.

The Common Payment and Multimodal Trip Planning projects were combined into one, since the app being developed will fulfill both objectives.

That leaves the following seven projects from the original grant application, some of which have been tweaked or expanded in the wake of the recent review:

  • Connected Electric Autonomous Vehicle – The Easton-area driverless shuttle falls under this project. A fleet of the vehicles would operate in mixed traffic and potentially connect to the new Cleveland Avenue Bus Rapid Transit line, the CMAX. Some of the routes would connect to area employers, while others would focus more on the needs of shoppers.
  • Truck Platooning – This project would equip trucks coming and going from Rickenbacker International Airport with smart technology so that they could travel very close to each other, resulting in less fuel use, fewer emissions and improved efficiency.
  • Connected Vehicle Environment – Expands the connected vehicle idea to buses, emergency vehicles, city fleets, and even private cars. This makes things like traffic signal prioritization possible (which is planned for the CMAX).
  • Multimodal Trip Planning/Common Payment System – Customers could plan trips and pay for COTA, CoGo, Car2Go, Uber, or Lyft within a single application.
  • Smart Mobility Hubs – Focused on the Cleveland Avenue corridor in Linden, this initiative would add WiFi-connected kiosks to certain CMAX stops.
  • Mobility Assistance for People with Cognitive Disabilities – A mobile app aimed at individuals that don’t use or aren’t eligible for COTA’s paratransit service, but also have difficulty navigating the bus system on their own.
  • Event Parking Management – This system would make it possible to search for and reserve parking spots for major events.

The new project – Prenatal Trip Assistance – aims to establish a more reliable system for expectant mothers who currently use a Medicaid-brokered transportation service. The project was added after a CityLab article highlighted the limitations of that system and questioned the city’s commitment to its goal of reducing infant mortality.

The reshuffling of the projects – along with the lack of many tangible outcomes nearly a year and a half after the grant win was celebrated with great fanfare – has led some observers to quietly question if Smart Columbus has stumbled as it works to translate the grand language of the original application into visible results.

Smart Columbus representatives vigorously deny that interpretation of the situation, citing the need to build a solid foundation for the initiative that is based on research, outreach, and planning.

“We have spent the past year soliciting end user and stakeholder feedback to ensure we are designing real solutions to actual problems in a way that will be most beneficial,” said Braun. “Through focus groups, surveys and innovation sessions with Columbus residents and interviews with stakeholders, we gathered insights that will help us ensure the projects will deliver effective, efficient solutions to real mobility problems felt in our community.”

Columbus Underground also reached out to USDOT about the recent changes and the current status of the effort. A spokesperson provided the following statement:

“The U.S. Department of Transportation is working closely with Smart Columbus to ensure that they continue to meet their deliverables and maximize the taxpayers’ investment in their program. This year, an updated Program Management Plan included a refocus putting the Smart Columbus Operating System at the center of the program’s management. The Department of Transportation remains committed to working with Columbus as they transform their infrastructure systems.”

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