Early Ideas for Smart City Challenge Include Self-Driving Shuttles, Adaptive Traffic Lights

Though the U.S. Department of Transportation isn't releasing details of any of the 77 applications it's received for its Smart City Challenge until March 12, city officials have divulged pieces of their plans to local media outlets across the country.

by / February 11, 2016

After 77 cities across the country applied for a $50 million prize through the U.S. Department of Transportation's Smart City Challenge, city leaders have begun to reveal what they would use the money on if they won.

Smart City Challenge

  • 77 municipal applicants.
  • Cities represent 31 states and the District of Columbia.
  • The DOT will select five finalists at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, on March 12.
  • One winner will receive $50 million in June.

The department is offering $40 million to the winner, with the private investment firm Vulcan adding in another $10 million and Mobileye promising to outfit the grant recipient's bus fleets with driver alert technology. The department itself isn't planning on revealing information about the applications until it narrows the pool down to five finalists at South by Southwest on March 12, but local media have been reporting the details of individual cities' plans.

The winner will be announced sometime in June, according to the U.S. DOT.

At this stage in the competition, cities are only supposed to have "high-level" ideas for transportation projects. After the DOT selects five finalists in March, it will offer each one $100,000 to refine and develop the ideas into more specific proposals.

Early indications show that many applicant cities are interested in enhancing bus services and light rail lines or in upgrading traffic signals to allow them to adapt to things like traffic jams and emergency vehicles. Here are some of the ways cities are proposing to put the DOT's money to work:

  • Sacramento, Calif., hopes to offer self-driving cars to drive riders to light rail stations and buy smart traffic light controllers that will allow signals to adjust timing throughout the day in response to vehicle flows. See more here.
  • Las Vegas would add sensors to parking spots to let drivers know where parking is available in real time. Other ideas include upgrading the city's bike share program to let users know how many bikes are available in each location and adding emergency vehicle integration capabilities to traffic lights. See more here.
  • Austin, Texas, would add more traffic monitoring sensors and increase the scope of its traffic monitoring efforts to operate on a regional basis instead of just citywide. That would feed into the city's ability to reroute traffic in the event of a collision. See more here.
  • Omaha, Neb.'s plans include adding vehicle-to-infrastructure connection capabilities to traffic signals and laying down "smart pavement." See more here.
  • Kansas City, Mo.'s prospects include adding a new bus line, offering Wi-Fi on public transit, expanding the city's bike share program and developing regulations for autonomous vehicles. See more here.
  • Louisville, Ky., officials have released their full application. Ideas in the proposal include adding smart lanes for buses and connected cars, setting up an autonomous shuttle program and expanding the city's traffic data gathering capabilities. See more here.
  • Raleigh, N.C., might offer autonomous buses connecting North Carolina State University to the city's downtown area and upgrade traffic lights to sync with one another and respond to changes in traffic conditions. See more here.
  • Virginia Beach, Va., would offer autonomous shuttles to connect passengers to its light rail line, deploy smart traffic signals and work on encouraging strategic city growth as opposed to suburban sprawl. See more here.
  • Newport News, Va., is proposing to outfit every one of its 270 intersections with adaptive traffic signals. See more here.
  • New Haven, Conn., would implement a bike share program and consider other ways of increasing bicycling and bus ridership with the goal of reducing the prevalence of work commuters driving alone from 70 percent to 30 percent. See more here.
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