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Columbus, Ohio, Shares Its Smart City Secrets in New Playbook

The online collection of case studies, strategies and other information will provide cities with insight into how Columbus is making public transit safer and easier to use.

Collaboration and transparency are often rallying cries of smart city advocates, with city officials and others usually happy to discuss the projects.

Columbus, Ohio, is taking this mantra a step further and has put together its “Smart Columbus Playbook,” an online collection of case studies, strategies, and other related information, including contracts, RFPs, as well as “Concept of Operations” and “System Requirements” documents for the city's various projects.

“We wanted to start collecting what we were learning and kind of tell the story of Smart Columbus, and all of these unique projects, in real time,” said Jennifer Fening, senior manager of marketing communications at Smart Columbus.

Two years ago, Columbus was awarded a $40 million U.S. Department of Transportation Challenge grant to create a smart transportation system in which vehicles and roads communicate to make travel easier and safer. It also came with $10 million from Vulcan Inc., with a goal of reducing greenhouse emissions and auto commutes.

Since then, the city has become a national leader in its quest to remake public transit, accelerate the adoption of electric cars and explore the possibilities for autonomous vehicles.

The playbook, which will be updated weekly, is broken up into 18 different content categories that cover the breadth of the projects underway. Within each category is a suite of articles and other information. It will also include research, case studies and even videos around topics such as “Increasing EV Charging Access at Multi-Unit Dwellings.”

“We understand cities are hungry to find opportunities for how they can tackle climate, equity and other transportation challenges, such as safety and congestion, through technological advances,” said Loreana Marciante, strategy manager for climate and energy programs at Paul G. Allen Philanthropies, speaking during a Nov. 7, 2018, webinar to discuss the release of the playbook.

“And we hope that Columbus will be that model for everyone to look at,” Marciante continued, adding there’s “no one cookbook.”

“And so this playbook is meant to be an interactive process where Columbus will share with you what they’ve gone through, what are the programs they’re implementing and what are the elements they’ve learned,” said Marciante.

The playbook is directed toward other cities seeking to explore smart transportation and transit projects, the private sector and even the general public.

“One of the key programs within that portfolio is partnering with the private sector to drive behavior change, in the region, in the way we get around,” said Fening. “We’re creating programs that encourage employees to drive electric vehicles. And so, we want other companies to learn what private-sector leaders in the Columbus region are doing to create new benefits for employees, and just drive behavior change through the private sector.”

Like all claims of transparency, Columbus will share more than its wins. “We also want to be transparent with what didn’t work,” said Fening. “If we can save a community from going down a path that we found less productive, and direct them toward a more productive path, that’s a win in our minds as well.”

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.