Seven American cities spent 6 months competing for a $40 million prize from the US Department of Transportation. The challenge was designing the city of the future by juggling three big ideas: automation, climate change and urban inequality.
Here are the cities and their proposals:
- SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
Problem: High density of vehicles which leads to horrendous traffic, pollution, greenhouse gases, noise and car crashes.
Idea: Let city residents choose neighborhoods to test out strategies to slash that car total. And once that happens, replace unneeded parking garages and even some intersections with affordable housing.
Action: Essentially a behavioral experiment that seeks to help change people’s habits. By providing carpool only lanes, people would be attracted to opt for the faster, easier option of car-sharing greener vehicles. This would free up space for gardens or playgrounds.
- AUSTIN, TEXAS
Problem: Plugged up traffic is helping drive up property prices downtown, while driving out many artistic types and closing up music venues.
Idea: Create transportation hubs largely around the city’s edge to prevent downtown from being crushed by cars. Ultimately, “a strategic network of these hubs could eliminate the need for human-driven vehicles in the urban core altogether,” the city says.
Action: Give the supercharged “park and ride” lots some style. Officials want them to be a “cool space”, the mayor says, with walk-in medical clinics and groceries waiting to be picked up from locked refrigerators. They want people pouring into the hubs using shared vehicles or transit, rather than their own cars. People can then head out on electric buses, trains, automated bikes or driverless cars.
- COLUMBUS, OHIO
Problem: People in poor communities have worse access to jobs and services because of the lack of cheap transportation options. Additionally, there is a high level of unemployment coupled with a lack of skill sets necessary for the many job vacancies.
Idea: Tackle the inconveniences and impediments of daily travel by tying together neighborhoods and connecting people to higher education and health care, as well as to training and job opportunities.
Action: Run an autonomous circulator in one of Ohio’s largest job centers, Easton, which is adjacent to Linden and which would make access easier for people in both communities. By distributing a smart card and app that cover everything from bus fares to ride and car-sharing services, they are helping those who are dependent on cash.
- KANSAS CITY, KANSAS
Problem: Swaths of the city are isolated, with people living beneath the poverty line and having trouble connecting to the web.
Idea: Expand an ambitious but limited tech blitz surrounding a just-opened streetcar line to include struggling neighborhoods.
Action: Expanding the advanced technologies already in place: smart traffic light, streetlights that switch on when people are around, free Wi-fi and public internet kiosks. Additionally, an eight-mile bus line on Prospect Ave. is to be opened. The new transportation networks are meant to connect the people to where the jobs and education are.
- PORTLAND, OREGON
Problem: Parts of Portland are isolated from the general urban regeneration: they have no rail, no sidewalks and dangerous roads. These are often the places where immigrants and poorer families live.
Idea: Tap road-safety and electric-vehicle technologies and feed residents data to shift their behavior.
Action: A navigation and payment app would tie together transit, ride-sharing, walking and other ways people get around, with info piped back to customers on the calories burned or the greenhouse gases saved – or dumped into the atmosphere. Allow electric vehicles to plug in to the streetlight and parking meter network, and explore wireless charging and possible new lanes for juicing up while rolling.
- PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA
Problem: The city’s post-industrial decline stranded many and its revival bypassed others. Neighborhoods are marked by stark inequality and polluting energy sources are still widely used.
Idea: Recycle an old steel mill site, revive a long-struggling neighborhood and tie both to a tech-augmented transportation network stretching across the city.
Action: Push existing plans to power up the old steel site, known as Almono, using a “microgrid” fueled by solar and geothermal power. Officials want to use the coming arrival of Uber’s driverless-car test course at the steel site to draw more transportation technology jobs. They would link the development to universities and tech companies in nearby Oakland using an autonomous shuttle.
- DENVER, COLORADO
Problem: The population rise created crushing congestion. Meanwhile, a third of people live in poor neighborhoods with high unemployment.
Idea: Marry carpool services such as Lyft Line with light rail, commuter rail and bus lines, so people can more easily get to and from stations and drive less.
Action: Because many residents don’t have the resources necessary to sign up for ride-hailing services, the municipality will do that for them. Officials would help poor residents pay for Lyft trips that start or stop along transit lines. The ride-hailing company could then guarantee rates to encourage drivers to make more pickups in underserved areas. Along the way, the city would gather data on where the holes in service are and test the economics of driverless cars.
Columbus eventually took the crown with its project aimed at tackling urban inequality.