Columbus, Ohio announces its Connected Vehicle Environment

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One of the most exciting trends in transportation technology is the idea of a ‘smart city’: a city with connected infrastructure that can communicate with private and public vehicles, buildings, electricity grids, government agencies, and citizens. Smart cities leverage realtime data generated by IoT devices and advanced analytics to aid policymakers working to solve social problems like traffic congestion, air pollution, and crime.

So far, smart city infrastructures have been associated with wealthy, dense, high-tech cities like Singapore and Dubai, but last week Columbus, Ohio, became the latest metropolis to launch plans to become a smart city. City officials said that Columbus would move forward with its Connected Vehicle Environment, set to go live in July 2020. The Connected Vehicle Environment is funded by a $40M U.S. Department of Transportation grant awarded to the city of Columbus when it won the Smart City Challenge in 2016. 

“The CVE project is one of the nine projects in the Smart Columbus program and is a significant enabler to other technologies delivered through the other eight projects. The CVE project will integrate smart traveler applications, automated vehicles, connected vehicles, and smart sensors into its transportation network by focusing on deploying CV infrastructure and CV applications,” according to Columbus’ Concept of Operations report. 

“We feel transportation should be connected, autonomous, shared and electric,” said Mandy Bishop, deputy director of public services in Columbus, said in a July 25 webinar outlining the project. 

Last month, McKinsey Global Institute released a research report titled “Smart cities: digital solutions for a more livable future”, which found that cities could use smart technologies to improve key quality-of-life indicators by 10-30%. McKinsey defined smart city technology as having three layers: the physical layer of technology, which includes devices like smartphones and sensors; the software layer of applications translating raw data into alerts, insights, and action; and the human layer of users in cities, companies, and the public. 

At a physical level, the scope of the Connected Vehicle Environment project entails 113 roadside units at signalized intersections and 1,800 onboard units in participating private, emergency, transit, and freight vehicles. Planned software applications will handle vehicle-to-vehicle safety, vehicle-to-infrastructure safety, and vehicle-to-infrastructure mobility solutions. Finally, the usage layer “will capture, relate, store, and respond to data generated by the infrastructure, used by the applications for traffic management.”

The roadside units will be deployed along seven major roads in Columbus that are associated with a disproportionate number of automobile accidents. Columbus’ Connected Vehicle Environment is similar to a project in Tampa Bay that saw about 1,600 private drivers use connected devices on the Lee Roy Selman Expressway. Although the over all number of devices is fairly large, the Connected Vehicle Environment is really an experimental, first-stage implementation of smart city technology, a platform that other capabilities can be built on top of. 

McKinsey’s report lists a much wider range of use cases for transportation: realtime public transit information; digital public transit payment; autonomous vehicles; predictive maintenance of transportation infrastructure; intelligent traffic signals; congestion pricing; demand-based microtransit; smart parking; e-hailing (private and pooled); car sharing; bike sharing; integrated multimodal information; realtime road navigation; parcel load pooling; and smart parcel lockers. 

Columbus is focusing on automotive traffic, an aspect of quality-of-life with some of the biggest potential improvements from smart city technology. McKinsey estimates that emergency response time, for instance, can be improved 20-35%, and that “by 2025, cities that deploy smart mobility applications could cut commuting times by 15–20 percent on average, with some people enjoying even larger reductions.”

As data scientists and anyone who’s worked in analytics knows, though, ‘smart’ technology can only be as smart as the people and organizations using it. “Using technology to transform urban environments in a more meaningful way will require new thinking about governance. Technology is only as effective as the entity that puts it to work,” wrote the authors of McKinsey’s report. “City government has a dual role to play. It has to execute some intelligent solutions on its own, and it has to orchestrate and enable the evolution of a broader ecosystem [of public and private partners].”

Ultimately, smart city technology can optimize the use of existing transportation infrastructure, removing friction from the movement of people and goods in urban freight markets that are currently congested, inaccessible, and overpriced.