Smart City Initiatives

Leading examples of smart cities across the globe

Columbus Smart City: Technology in Support of Social Opportunity

In June 2016, the city of Columbus, Ohio won the U.S. Department of Transportation’s smart city challenge, competing against 77 other cities. It presented its vision to use technology to support the mobility of residents, not only improving the quality of life but also helping all citizens gain equal access to opportunity.  

Columbus won a grant of $40 million from the Federal Department of Transportation (DoT) and $10 million from a philanthropic organization. It also raised $90 million from the public sector, and together with other investments, has reached total funding of $500 million for the smart city, with a goal of $1 billion in funding by 2020. 

Columbus faces four challenges: a growing younger population that is moving to urban areas, an aging population, mobility challenges in specific neighborhoods, and a growing economy and population. Columbus is addressing these issues using existing infrastructure, networks, and data while embracing smart technologies. 

Columbus established a lean team that is leading the smart city initiative, running tests, and experiments to ensure that projects will provide value for citizens. All Columbus smart city initiatives exhibit a special emphasis on social needs and supporting weaker populations in their access to services, jobs, and opportunities. 

In this article you'll learn about:

The Columbus Smart City Vision

Columbus has a vision for a healthy, prosperous, beautiful city for everyone. The foundational plans of Columbus address, data, investments, and innovative solutions that address the needs of its citizens. Columbus identified the following goals and actions for its smart city program: 

  • Connect neighborhoods, downtown, and the region as a whole. 
  • Improve personal safety and health through connected networks, complete streets, safe street designs, etc. 
  • Limit inequality by providing residents with access to affordable, quality transportation that connects them to housing, education, and jobs.
  • Strengthen economic competitiveness by creating networks and infrastructure to retain and create jobs. 
  • Address climate change by limiting emissions and consumptions, and using alternative energy sources. 
  • Engage community members in decisions through transparent information and communications and engaged government.
  • Practice fiscal sustainability by using rich data, prioritizing investments, collaborating with partners, and measuring progress. 

Learn more about smart city initiatives in our guide: Los Angeles Smart City: Data And Sustainability

Columbus Smart City Projects

By October 2017, Columbus narrowed down its 15 original projects to 9 large projects:  

Smart Columbus Operating System ­

A web-based open-source data delivery platform launched in May 2018. It is the central hub for data collection, integration, and distribution for all smart city projects. 

Columbus residents and visitors can use the operating system to access data from services, companies, and smart city technologies. The operating system monitors, processes, and adjusts public services according to the data it receives and analyses.

Connected Vehicle Environment 

Columbus is creating a connected environment in city areas that are particularly dangerous or congested. It has installed connected units in 3,000 vehicles and 175 intersections. These units facilitate communication between connected vehicles and roads and enable applications that manage traffic, prioritize emergency teams, and public transport. The project is aimed to prevent accidents, achieve safer traffic conditions, and reduce congestion. 

Multimodal Trip Planning and Common Payment System 

Citizens and visitors use this system to plan and pay for trips that require multiple transportation options. Users gain access to all transportation platforms and can compare options and select routes according to real-time traffic conditions. This will make it simpler to combine public transportation, ride-sharing, and other mobility options.

Smart Mobility Hubs ­

Columbus is setting up dedicated physical spaces with kiosks that assist residents with mobility options. The kiosks are equipped with free Wi-Fi, and display real-time transportation information across multiple modes of travel, including bike and scooter sharing, ride-sharing, park-and-ride lots, and public transport. The aim is to provide open access to mobility options for all residents, including those without access to smartphones.

Mobility Assistance ­

An application that assists people with disabilities, so they can independently use public transportation. Individuals that need assistance, such as elderly, visually impaired, or cognitively disabled people can use this app to accurately and intuitively navigate the city.

Prenatal Trip Assistance

A program for assisting expectant mothers on Medicaid, by granting them two-way trips to non-emergency medical appointments. Eligible women can use a mobile app to book rides and communicate with medical personnel via the app. 

Franklin County, of which Columbus is part, has among the highest infant mortality rates in the USA, especially among African Americans. The program is expected to reduce infant mortality by giving women of a lower economic status equal opportunity to medical care. 

Learn more about HERE Mobility's route optimization software for NEMTs

Event Parking Management ­

Citizens and visitors use this app to navigate crowded city areas (especially during large events), to find available parking. The app enables booking of a parking space in advance and paying for it within the app.  

Connected Electric Autonomous Vehicles 

Electric autonomous transit shuttles in the Easton neighborhood connect riders from the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) center to employment centers. The shuttles began serving passengers in late 2018.

Truck Platooning

A system in which trucks use a wireless connection to automatically adjust their speeds and drive together. Trucks drive more efficiently in groups, reducing wind resistance and the need for braking, allowing the platoon to drive at fuel-efficient speeds and reducing emissions. The city gives priority to truck platoons and a green light when they arrive at intersections.

Learn more about smart city initiatives in our guide: Chicago Smart City: Shaping The Future With Data

Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Columbus aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by working according to five goals:

  • Decarbonization: installing a renewable energy generator aimed to serve the region by 2030.
  • Fleet adoption: deploying nearly 800 electric vehicles in fleets to serve public and private sectors.
  • Transit autonomous and multimodal systems: implementing a multimodal approach to promote the adoption of decarbonized mobility options.
  • Consumer electric vehicle adoption: promoting private adoption of electric vehicles.
  • Charging infrastructure: further supporting electric vehicles by implementing charging infrastructure.

Smart Human Services and Access to Opportunity

The Columbus smart city provides additional services to benefit residents and visitors to Columbus, Ohio, and create open access to opportunity regardless of economic status:

  • Access to jobs: Creating designated ‘corridors’ to connect residents to job centers, formed by convenient transit services.
  • Connected visitors: Columbus is a regional destination for sporting events, Zoo, airport, medical services and shopping. However, visitors require real-time information on traffic, parking and transit options. The solution is to provide funding for apps developed by the private sector for each event, which provide all the mobility information required by visitors to the city.
  • Connected citizens: Citizens have limited access to jobs, health care, and education, because of mobility challenges in some neighborhoods. Columbus is focusing on Linden neighborhood’s mobility challenges and works with public and private social services to offer improved mobility for populations with economic or social challenges. 
  • Sustainable energy and transportation: Columbus recently completed a major Smart Grid project, and aims to create an environment that fosters urban vehicle sharing and efficient driving patterns, reducing vehicle ownership. It also promotes the use of sustainable modes of transportation such as electric vehicles (EV). 
  • Smart Columbus Experience Center - Columbus opened a location that lets residents learn about smart city initiatives, including new transportation platforms. For example, the center provides information about electric vehicles and gives visitors the opportunity to test drive one. It provides interactive screens that simulate what life in the city will look like with future mobility options.

Learn more about smart city initiatives in our guide: Dubai Smart City: Paving The Way With Innovation And Technology

Columbus: An Inspirational Model of Smart City 2.0

Columbus is one of the largest and best-funded initiatives deploying smart city technology for the benefit of a large population while supporting an entire economic region. It put forth an inspirational vision that landed it the title “America’s Smart City”.

The Columbus smart city initiative can be characterized as Smart City 2.0. While Smart City 1.0 involved the deployment of smart city infrastructure, Smart City 2.0 is the deployment of smart city applications to benefit the lives of citizens and improve city operations. 

The Columbus program is focused on the needs of citizens but is driven by a top-down approach led by a consortium of city officials, academia and technology partners. Many smart cities, such as Barcelona and Amsterdam, are aiming to take the smart city one step further;  involving citizens in smart city policy and the inception of smart city technologies. This is known as Smart City 3.0. Time will tell if Columbus will use its clear vision and powerful financial backing to launch initiatives that not only help citizens but empower them and allow them to define their smart future together.