Smart Columbus Announces Future Direction As Collaborative Innovation Lab

Columbus concluded delivery of the Smart City Challenge, successfully deploying groundbreaking mobility tools including autonomous vehicles, connected vehicles, electric vehicles and app-based mobility tools to connect residents to opportunity. Through the $50 million Smart City Challenge awards from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, and $19 million in city, state and county cost-share, Columbus has deployed the most comprehensive portfolio of emerging mobility technologies of any city in five years, showing how safer, cleaner and more equitable transportation options can create opportunity for Columbus residents and prepare the region for the future. 

With delivery of the Challenge grants complete, the City of Columbus and the Columbus Partnership today announced that Smart Columbus will be sustained as an agile, collaborative innovation lab that benefits the Columbus Region by anticipating and advancing what is new and next at the intersection of technology and community good. The organization will explore how mobility innovation, climate technologies, digitalization and other emerging technologies can help address complex societal problems, respond to disruption and generate economic opportunity.

“Through the Smart City Challenge, we’ve led the country in deploying new mobility technologies, but we’ve never been interested in tech for tech’s sake. These innovations served to advance prosperity in our community, help expectant mothers access health care and food, distribute meals and masks to neighbors in need, and help essential workers get to work during the pandemic,” said Mayor Andrew J. Ginther. “When we deploy technology in partnership with the community, we can address some of our most pressing challenges. Smart Columbus will continue to explore how mobility innovation, climate technologies, digitalization and other emerging technologies can help us address complex societal problems, respond to disruption and generate economic opportunity.”

Smart Columbus today published the executive summary and final report for the $40 million grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which demonstrated how modern, integrated transportation options can empower residents to live their best lives. Key findings include: 

  • The Linden LEAP — the nation’s first daily-operating public self-driving shuttle in a residential area — transported nearly 130,000 meals and 15,000 masks from St. Stephen’s Community House to neighbors in need during the pandemic.
  • Pregnant individuals in the Smart Columbus prenatal trip assistance evaluation project who were randomly assigned to receive enhanced smart transportation services took more trips to medical appointments compared to those randomly assigned to continue to receive standard transportation benefits provided by Medicaid managed care organizations. Enhanced smart transportation included access to on-demand rides to medical appointments, grocery stores, food banks and pharmacies via mobile application or web portal. There was also the suggestion of increased satisfaction with transportation services in the enhanced smart transportation group compared to usual transportation. Following their collaboration with Smart Columbus and The Ohio State University on this project, the participating Medicaid managed care organizations are modernizing how they deliver non-emergency transportation services to their members including access to a mobile application for trip scheduling and expanding same-day transportation services.
  • The Pivot multimodal transportation planning app, which helps travelers plan and pay for trips throughout central Ohio using one or more transportation options like bus, ride-hailing, carpool, bikes, scooters, taxis and personal vehicle or bike, has been downloaded over 1,000 times and supported 447 trips amidst the pandemic. Pivot users reported easier transfer between different transportation modes and were more satisfied with their transportation options, travel time, distance and flexibility.
  • More than 1,000 vehicles participated in the connected vehicle environment, where vehicles could “talk” to each other and to 85 intersections, seven of them with the highest crash rates in central Ohio. The technology improved emergency response times and slowed participant speeds in school zones during the demonstration.
  • The Ohio State University calculated that investments from the implementation of the USDOT award generated an estimated gross metropolitan product (GMP) of $173.39 million and generated or induced 2,366 jobs.
  • An accessibility analysis found that travelers originating at the Linden Transit Center can now reach at least 20,000 additional jobs and 3,000 additional healthcare services within 30 minutes than they would using the trip planning tools that existed prior to the introduction of the Smart Columbus projects.  

“Through the delivery of the Smart City Challenge, Columbus has shown how innovative and impactful transportation solutions can help our residents live their best lives,” said Mandy Bishop, Smart Columbus Program Manager, City of Columbus. “Our leadership in defining the future of cities has also created a playbook for cities for how to collaborate with residents, technology providers and community partners to deploy technologies that can make a lasting community impact.”

Five of the eight grant-funded projects — Pivot, ParkColumbus, smart mobility hubs, the connected vehicle environment and the Smart Columbus Operating System — will be sustained by the City of Columbus past the term of the grant, making new mobility tools available to Columbus travelers as mobility behaviors rebound post-pandemic. 

In May 2020, Columbus successfully concluded the $10 million Smart City Challenge grant awarded by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, which helped Columbus emerge as the fastest-growing city in the Midwest for electric vehicle adoption. Expanding on the decarbonization vision of the grant, the City of Columbus recently unveiled its Climate Action Plan with a goal of climate neutrality by 2050, and the Columbus Partnership launched a collaborative energy buying program to help large corporate and industry buyers accelerate their transition to clean energy.

“Winning the Challenge fueled a movement throughout the Columbus Region that has given us an edge when competing for economic development and diverse talent,“ said Alex Fischer, President and CEO of the Columbus Partnership. “Columbus now leads the nation in autonomous vehicle deployment and R&D; nearly 50 percent of One Columbus’ automotive pipeline is in the electric vehicle supply chain; local startups are emerging; and our large companies are doubling down on renewable energy. All of this investment and activity is creating prosperity for our region and our residents.”

Aligned regional investments by the City of Columbus, Franklin County, ODOT, MORPC, COTA, The Ohio State University, Transportation Research Center, Inc, AEP Ohio, the Columbus Partnership and others have created an economic impact of nearly $720 million, and created or induced 3,870 jobs. 

“The Smart City Challenge was the springboard to impactful, collaborative innovation in the Columbus Region,” said William Murdock, Executive Director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. “The results are clear: our region is more committed than ever to using technology and data to foster equity, drive economic development, improve air quality, and prepare for a growing population.”  

The perspectives and partnerships forged during the Smart City Challenge will continue to be leveraged by Smart Columbus as it contributes to the Region’s shared vision to make Columbus the most prosperous region in the country. Smart Columbus will be sustained as a 501(c)(3) co-led by the City of Columbus and Columbus Partnership that will deliver impact by deploying human-centered, technology-enabled solutions co-created with the community. Technology deployments in the areas of mobility, sustainability, digitalization and emerging urban technologies will seek to help Columbus embrace and seamlessly integrate technology into the fabric of the city, enabling greater responsiveness to the needs of the city and residents while prioritizing climate, prosperity and equity. 

“Societal problems are more complex than ever. Climate change, growing inequity and workforce disruption are indisputable challenges that can be mitigated with inclusive adoption and deployment of new and next technologies,” said Jordan Davis, the newly-named Executive Director of Smart Columbus. “Smart Columbus will continue to partner with the community to accelerate the adoption of emerging technologies to give our residents a more frictionless experience with infrastructure, systems and services, so that we may increase access to opportunity and improve quality of life for everyone.” 

About Smart Columbus 

Smart Columbus is an agile, collaborative innovation lab that serves the Columbus Region by anticipating and advancing what is new and next at the intersection of technology and community good. By promoting thought leadership on the future of cities, fostering an ecosystem of regional partners and delivering human-centered technology deployments in the areas of mobility, sustainability, digitalization and emerging urban technologies, Smart Columbus seeks to offer residents a more frictionless experience with Columbus’ infrastructure, systems and services, increasing access to opportunity and improving quality of life. A non-profit organization co-led by the City of Columbus and Columbus Partnership, Smart Columbus was founded in 2016 when Columbus won the first-ever Smart City Challenge. 

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