Generally speaking, technology is a key component in a city achieving "smart" status. It can take many forms and have many uses for such cities, including improving wastewater management, emergency response, electrical grids and more. But what really sets a Smart City apart is the strategic use of technology to improve the transportation system, particularly for those populations that need transportation most.
As it continues to evolve, transportation technology is expected to provide several benefits, including vehicle-to-infrastructure communications that allow smoother traffic flow on city streets for commuters using rapid-transit buses or other connected vehicles. Additionally, applications may find parking spaces for drivers and autonomous vehicles may eliminate the first-mile/last-mile problem for public transit riders.
Transportation technology also is expected to provide significant safety benefits, such as pedestrian-detection and applications that provide alerts before potential collisions between vehicles or with transit systems, such as streetcars. Cities that implement these technologies may even see up to an 80 percent reduction in vehicle collisions, excluding those involving impaired drivers.
However, cities should not implement this technology for its own sake – it must be implemented strategically to solve real issues.
In fact, one of the reasons Columbus, Ohio, won the U.S. Department of Transportation's 2016 Smart City Challenge was because it demonstrated how technology could be implemented to meet real needs in the city.
One such need was for better transportation options in the city's Linden neighborhood, which had the highest infant mortality percentage in the city and was among the highest in the nation. Mothers and pregnant women were limited in options to get to and from medical facilities to get the care they needed to keep their children healthy.
Multimodal trip planning technology is a solution that will need to be implemented in areas like this to improve mobility for those who need it most.
The Columbus example reveals that transportation technology not only has the "cool factor" that so many are excited for, but also can bring convenience and potentially even life-saving benefits to communities.
As cities become smarter and transportation technology more prevalent, we must first look to those populations with the greatest transportation needs, then bring together the resources of the public and private sectors to find the best solutions.
When a city can find a way to use modern transportation infrastructure to connect jobs, schools, healthcare and other amenities, social equity is improved and quality of life bolstered. And from the perspective of a city's residents, that's smart.