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Smart Cities Collaborative Tackles Transit Issues

Twenty-two cities have been selected to participate in the second Smart Cities Collaborative, organized by Transportation for America, with the focus on mobility.

The second Smart Cities Collaborative, organized by Transportation for America, selected 22 cities to explore how new technologies and new transportation options are changing the way we move around cities, with this year's focus on design, measure, manage and price. A handful of cities have been selected to collaborate on innovative uses of curb space and city right-of-ways.

Pittsburgh — one of the 22 cities selected — will be talking about some of the lessons learned from piloting new technologies to make the transportation system more equitable, more efficient, more sustainable, and safer, according to Keyva Clark, a communications spokeswoman for Pittsburgh. “We’re hoping to work with our other cohort cities to build market power and set a shared vision for mobility in the cities of the future," said Clark in an email.

Some of those pilots include adaptive traffic signals and smart streetlights, projects that the city undertook with Metro21: Smart Cities Institute, a research arm of Carnegie Mellon University.

“In terms of new projects, we'd like to talk to other cities using new technologies to do pre-construction evaluation, simulation, and post-construction measurement to get a better sense of how physical improvements we make — intersection improvements, signal timings, etc. — will benefit all users of the roadway,” said Clark.

The 22 cities were culled from more than 50 submissions. Twelve of the 16 cities in last year’s cohort will be returning this year.

The collaborative’s first meeting will be in Denver, April 16-17, with a variety of workshops and other events scheduled throughout the year. This year’s group range in population from New York City, with more than 8.5 million to West Sacramento, Calif., with 53,000.

Ultimately, officials with Transportation for America weighed a number of issues in their consideration for selecting this year's participants, said Russ Brooks, Smart Cities director at Transportation for America.

"These included the problems the cities struggled with and the outcomes they would like to see from work on the problems," Brooks explained. "Other factors ranged from the commitment of the political leadership and department heads, to funding and whether the city is working on a project that's similar to one from another city in the collaborative."

The organizatiion also examined some of the different projects cities would like to see move through the various steps of planning, design and implementation.

“The idea was to get a broad range of cities from around the country that were interested in working on different projects in the smart mobility space,” Brooks said in an interview with Government Technology in February. “I like to joke that we’re working groups. We’re not talking groups,” he added.

Portland, Ore., another participant in this year's collaborative, is also looking at how technology can improve transportation and transport options, particularly in underserved communities, said Leah Treat, director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation.

“Portland’s priority is to ensure that new mobility technologies help us manage already-congested roadways, improve safety, give people in underserved communities more and better access to opportunity and cut climate pollution,” said Treat. “Portland’s Smart Autonomous Vehicles Initiative (SAVI) is working with Portlanders and private-sector partners to identify where and how new mobility can advance these goals.”

One example could be establishing some sort of shared ride program in areas not well served by public transit. “We’ll also be looking into innovative ways to carry more people in fewer vehicles, so that as we grow jobs and housing, we’re not growing traffic," said Treat.

Last year, the cities ranged in size from tiny Long Tree, Colo., with a population of 10,000 to Los Angeles. That diversity is intentional.

"We want to be able to apply what we’re learning in places like New York and L.A. and others, to midsize cities like Miami and Minneapolis and Denver, to small communities,” Brooks told GovTech on Wednesday, April 11. "But then there’s this second ring of suburban communities that are interested in piloting and testing and are struggling with similar, but different challenges, and have to apply similar but different solutions.”

"So it creates a much different learning environment. I really don’t want this to be, ‘the winning cities keep winning,’" he added. "I want this to spread beyond.”

Some of the topics likely to come up could revolve around congestion pricing, dynamic parking and curb space pricing.

The cities are expected to dedicate a lot of effort to pilots that address issues like first-mile-last-mile, automated vehicles and related issues, said Brooks. “But we’re using the ‘right-of-way’ as a really good wrapper because these projects are having a bigger impact than just, ‘how do we get them on the road.’”

Transportation for America is an alliance of civic, business and elected officials from across the country advocating for smart transportation and smart city projects.

The 22 communities participating in the Collaborative in 2018 are:

  • Atlanta
  • Austin, Texas
  • Boulder, Colo.
  • Centennial, Colo.
  • Gainesville, Fla.
  • Houston
  • Indianapolis
  • Los Angeles
  • Madison, Wis.
  • Miami-Dade, Fla.
  • Minneapolis New York
  • Pittsburgh
  • Portland, Ore.
  • San Diego
  • San Francisco
  • San Jose, Calif.
  • Santa Monica, Calif.
  • Seattle
  • Toronto, Ontario
  • Washington, D.C.
  • West Sacramento, Calif.


Smart Cities
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 Sacramento.
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