The 5 Steps that Determine if Your City Is Ready to Be Smart

An architect of the winning USDOT Smart City Challenge application, Ben Pierce of HDR, details what it takes to pursue a smart city plan.

One of the key architects of Columbus, Ohio's winning U.S. Department of Transportation Smart Cities Challenge application, Ben Pierce, HDR program manager of autonomous and connected vehicles and the firm's Transportation Technology National Lead shared his insights on what it takes municipal governments to initiate and implement smart city programs and technologies.

From leadership essentials to lessons from the Columbus plan, Pierce's advice can help cities understand if they have the mindset and what it takes to launch or drive a smart city initiative.

#1 Learn the Characteristics of Smart City Leaders

Pierce said elected officials don't have to be technology experts, but the "trademark" of those from smart cities is the knowledge of and willingness to implement new technologies to address challenges facing their cities.

"Smart cities recognize that transportation is the means to solve societal problems and not just a problem in itself that needs to be solved," he said.

#2 Consider the Best Approach to Developing Smart City Solutions 

Pierce said smart cities work with both transportation and other private industry partners. The process results in identifying larger "societal issues and community challenges that transportation solutions can address" while solving obvious transportation challenges.

#3 Take the Critical Step: Analyze & Understand Technology Readiness

Pierce said smart cities are comprehensive and systematic in how they pursue technology investments and make policy changes. Smart city readiness is developing a technology policy out of adoption planning based on actual technology capabilities, as opposed to one developed on technology expectations driven by hype.

Some cities deploy technology in an effort to 'do something.' Doing something with technology accompanied by a large press release does raise awareness and can give the perception that a city is advancing. But over-hyping the benefits of technology can result in a backlash when the benefits are not realized," advised Pierce.

#4 Understand Smart City Technology Trends

Having been involved with the U.S. Department of Transportation's 2016 Smart City Challenge, Pierce said that after reviewing the 78 applications, there are four clear trends:

  • Connected vehicle technology
  • Autonomous shuttle service
  • Smart parking
  • Mobility on demand

Some common technology elements in the proposals included adaptive traffic signal controls, carsharing or ridesharing and ridesourcing.

#5 Prepare a Winning Deployment Strategy

According to Pierce, Columbus divided their Smart City Challenge project into four deployment districts with broader social goals.

  1. Residential District ­proposals focused on reducing infant mortality rates.
  2. Downtown District solutions focused on preventing unwanted emissions in a dense urban zone.
  3. Commercial District plans focused on driving employment and economic development opportunities.
  4. Freight District solves focused improving on safety and economic development.

Across Columbus's four districts, there will be 11 technology deployments including:

  • Connected vehicle technologies
  • Wi-Fi access points
  • Smart street lights
  • Smart parking systems
  • Autonomous vehicle shuttles
  • Integrated multimodal fare cards and smartphone applications
  • Truck platooning, routing and parking solutions
  • Integrated data exchange

More than 170 intersections and 3,000 vehicles will also be equipped with Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) equipment.

Read the original Q&A on HDR's website.

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