How Redlands, Calif., Uses Data to Make 'Smart' Decisions

The ideas aim to improve traffic flow and infrastructure, even making it easier to find parking by using a smartphone app, among others.

by Sandra Emerson, Redlands Daily Facts, Calif. / August 9, 2017
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(TNS) -- REDLANDS -- The city is working on its next big thing.

With the Smart Redlands initiative, the city wants to find innovative ways to provide services and address the needs of residents, from syncing traffic signals to using data to drive decisions on spending and resources.

“There are many things we’re looking into that don’t even exist today,” said Chris Diggs, director of the city’s Municipal Utilities and Engineering Department. “We’re working with development and industry to put the things together that we’re looking for that we believe will meet the needs of tomorrow.”

There are 18 projects under the Smart Redlands umbrella, all of which are meant to make the city liveable, workable and sustainable, Diggs said.

The ideas aim to improve traffic flow and infrastructure, even making it easier to find parking by using a smartphone app, among others.

“We can’t sit here and wait until something comes,” said City Manager N. Enrique Martinez. “We need to go out there and look. Smart Redlands is one of the avenues. There will be other avenues we will pursue.”

The city is “relentless” in its efforts to lower the cost of services while covering the basics and trying new things, Martinez said.

SMART INFRASTRUCTURE

Redlands is working with outside agencies, such as universities, Waze and other companies, to create technology that would allow the city’s 90 traffic signals to communicate with each other.

The signals would learn how to move cars and pedestrians through an intersection more efficiently, Diggs said, and accommodate public safety vehicles on their way to emergencies.

“It’s something that doesn’t exist today,” he added. “There are many pieces of that technology, but no city on the planet has all of these pieces put together.”

Redlands has secured grant funding for the project and hopes to obtain more based on positive feedback from granting agency officials.

Now, the city just needs the technology.

“We laid down the gauntlet for the developers of the technology,” Diggs said. “This is what we’re looking for. We want something that does all of these different items, so go make it work. Go figure it out.”

Meanwhile, a plan to address the city’s most common complaint — street light outages — is under development.

This project includes switching all the city’s street lights to LED and establishing a system that would locate outages. Diggs said the project should be complete by the end of the year.

“The No. 1 call we get on 311 by a significant margin are street lights that are out,” he said. “This would completely eliminate that problem because we would know when those street lights are out and we will be able to go and address those.”

SMART FINANCES

Internally, the city plans to replace its financial and accounting system, which is expected to save staff time and money.

The city could also see some savings through the way it pays vendors and contractors, which would help the new system pay for itself, said Danielle Garcia, the city’s management services director.

The new system would allow the city to move customer transactions online, creating a 24-hour City Hall.

“That’s going to in turn streamline a lot of internal workflow we have and hopefully make efficiencies that correspond to us saving time,” Garcia said.

SMART SAVINGS

The problems the city is addressing have been long standing, but the solutions are new, said Kjeld Lindsted, senior administrative analyst with the city.

The streetlight project, Lindsted said, is a good example.

“Those are existing problems that have probably existed for years and they exist in every city,” Lindsted said. “What we’re trying to do is solve that problem in a creative way and in this case we’re solving it without spending additional money.”

There will be initial capital costs involved, Lindsted said, but the energy savings will cover the project’s costs in 10 years.

The city anticipates more than $100,000 in energy savings annually, he said.

“It’s delivering a better service, improving the infrastructure that’s out there and saving money at the same time,” he said.

SMART DECISIONS

At its core, Smart Redlands is about using hard data rather than anecdotal information to determine how to spend resources, Diggs said.

“Those data-driven decisions are a big piece of what we’re trying to do here,” he said.

Through its partnership with Waze, city employees enter information on roadwork, closures or other traffic impediments. In turn, the city can see data submitted by motorists.

“What we can get from that is where are people driving?” Diggs said. “Where are the bikes? Where are the runners? Where are the cars? With that data, if we’re going to be building a Class One bike lane, what street should it be on?”

Similarly, the upgraded financial and accounting system would use data submitted by residents to identify where an entire patch of sidewalk should be repaired rather than making piecemeal repairs, Garcia said.

“That’s going to help provide a lot of data for these decisions on investments and we can transform the way we deliver maintenance services,” Garcia said.

Martinez said the new technology and innovations are not only important for the residents, but city staff.

“If we don’t challenge staff, there are other cities that pay more and they will move, so it’s a dual relationship,” he said. “One is the service. The other is to keep the bright minds here and do it within our means.”

©2017 the Redlands Daily Facts (Redlands, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.