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    Columbus wins the White House’s ‘Smart City’ challenge

    Ohio capital is fastest-growing in the Midwest

    Derek Jensen

    Columbus, Ohio is the winner of the US Department of Transportation’s “Smart City” challenge, a competition for mid-sized cities to rethink urban transportation using technology like self-driving cars and smart street lights. Columbus edged out six other finalists, which were winnowed down from 78 submissions, to win $40 million in federal grant money to enact its proposal.

    The city proposed to deploy three electric self-driving shuttles to link a new bus rapid transit center to a retail district, and to use data analytics to tackle health problems like infant mortality. The city also plans to distribute a smart card and app that cover transit expenses like bus fares and ride and car-sharing services, and could be used by those who are dependent on cash. Other apps that give residents and visitors real-time traffic and parking updates will be rolled out. And new connected traffic lights designed to improve the flow of traffic and “talk” to connected vehicles will be installed.

    “This is a game changer for Columbus.”

    According to Columbus mayor Andrew Ginther, the “flagship component” was the concentration of smart city technology in the city’s Linden neighborhood, where residents have the worst access to jobs, doctors, and transit. The plan is to increase ride-hail and car-sharing services in Linden like Uber and Car2Go, in the hopes of better connecting residents to higher eduction, medical care, and job opportunities. “This is a game changer for Columbus,” Ginther said in a conference call with reporters.

    In addition to the $40 million from DOT, Columbus will also receive $10 million from Vulcan Inc., an investment and philanthropy firm run by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The city has also raised $90 million in private sources to supplement the project.

    “This was a stiff competition,” said DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx. “No shade on Columbus, but there were many cities that were just as competitive. And at the end of day, connecting their story of where they are and where they want to be to the technology of the future was truly extraordinary.”

    “This was a stiff competition.”

    In addition to Columbus, the seven finalists were Portland, Austin, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Denver. Earlier this month, those cities’ mayors descended on Washington, DC, to give TED-style talks about their proposals. Each city had some version of the same pitch: autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles, sensors collecting data, apps, and a bevy of infrastructure fixes to speed up the metamorphosis into a smart city.

    Columbus’s vow to use technology to reduce poverty and infant mortality, as well as the applicability of that proposal to other cities in the US and across the world, appears to have been that city’s ace in the hole. Foxx cited the plan several times in congratulating the city for its winning pitch.