Marching Toward a Smarter City

Join us as we stay up date on the Smart Columbus and Hyperloop One projects which will have a tremendous positive impact on the city.  If you have followed our newsletters in the past, then you know that this is an exciting time for Columbus.  These developments are happening at a time when the city is experiencing 1.5-2% growth in employment annually and offering over 20,000 new jobs.  This seems to be just the beginning of the growth spurt.  Alongside aggressive new plans for the city, city leaders are predicting that in the next 20 years an additional one million people will populate Columbus. It is critical during these times to not just make moves forward but make the right moves forward.

The city’s chief innovation officer and co-leader of Smart Columbus, Michael Stevens said it himself when talking about the residents and businesses who will benefit from the Smart City solution: “We have to understand: What are their needs?… We’re developing solutions that are solving a problem, and not a solution in search of a problem.” It was for this reason that Smart Columbus took a bit of a pause from their rapid planning and development cycle in 2017 to reallocate the granted funding.

During the pause period, feedback was gathered on some of the plan proposals from the people who were expected to directly benefit from them the most.  From there, Smart City planners determined what people liked about the project, and what they didn’t.  Parts of the plan that were undervalued, such as a proposal to create an app that would assist delivery drivers in getting access to reserved loading zone spots, were scrapped, enabling resources to be more efficiently directed elsewhere.

Now that the feds have given the OK to the altered Smart City plans, the committee has hit the ground running.  In the first 20 months, the program spent just under half of the budget from the U.S. Department of Transportation grant for making the city’s transportation system more efficient, safer, greener, and better at connecting people with jobs.  Planners have purchased the 1st batch of electric vehicles and added strategic charging stations for them around the city.  Optimizing transportation has been central to the project, as Mayor Andrew Ginther was quoted as saying, “Mobility is the great equalizer of the 21st century.”  Smart Columbus just recently chose a Columbus IT consulting firm to design and build the central integrated data hub that all other infrastructure of the project will build on.

Linden has received special attention from the project planners, with public meetings and extensive surveys with residents and local businesses being deployed to uncover how best to use resources to improve major metrics in the area. Surveys determined a significant factor to be improved prenatal care in the area as Linden has the highest rate of infant mortality in all of Columbus. The improved infrastructure is expected to help make necessary medical care more accessible to pregnant mothers.

At the forefront of the Linden prenatal care project is the Moms2B program, based out of Ohio State University. The co-founder of Moms2B Dr. Particia Gabbe spoke upon the importance of Smart Columbus targeting the infant mortality issue, “If transportation were solved – not just for getting to the prenatal appointments, which are critically important – but also for getting food, for getting laundry done, for getting things done that help have a healthy baby, a healthy home… all those things have a huge impact on our disparities.”

Overall the Smart Columbus design process aims to serve as a model for other cities to follow in future, a blueprint for planners in other regions to execute similar initiatives competently.  In late February, The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) announced that the next step will be to study “rapid-speed” transportation options. The goal is to complete a two-pronged research project exploring a high-speed rail and the feasibility of a Hyperloop by the end of 2018.   The high-speed rail research will encompass a Tier I Environmental Impact Study (EIS), part of which has already begun for the Chicago-Columbus segment of the project.

Including the City of Columbus, MORPC, partners in Indiana, Marysville, and Lima, there has been just under $1 million committed so far. There is an expected $1.5 million of additional funding coming from private partners. The Hyperloop has been embraced by Smart Columbus as well as Executive Director William Murdock who stated, “Being in one of the fastest growing regions in the Midwest and with the potential to add up to one million people by 2050, we are taking the next steps in exploring the best transportation options for both passengers and freight that will better connect Columbus to Chicago and Pittsburgh.”  Stay tuned to our upcoming newsletters as we keep you updated on these storylines and more.