U.S. DOT “overwhelmed” by applications to its Smart City Challenge

Did your city throw its hat in the ring?

The unveiling last December of a competition for $50 million toward connected transportation systems has sparked a flurry of activity from interested cities. The U.S. Department of Transportation announced yesterday that 77 cities in 35 states (including the District of Columbia) had submitted applications outlining their ideas. Applicants, which had to meet requirements such as medium-sized population range and have an established public transit system, include cities everywhere from San Francisco, to Baltimore, to Lincoln, Neb.

The challenge encourages cities to apply modern, technology-based solutions and data analysis methods specifically to emerging transportation options such as on-demand ride-hailing options and autonomous vehicles. The contest does not necessarily seek to overhaul a city’s transportation infrastructure, but rather ensure that those systems are connected and safe, and that residents have access to an “intelligent transportation system.” Such a system, with improved performance, safety and reliability, would lower barriers to more efficient public forms of transportation.

In an interview with CNET’s Roadshow, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx explained that American cities are “in an age where the intersection of transport and tech is ever present, and yet because of funding constraints and a lack of vision, we haven’t been able to capitalize.” The sheer number of applicants helps demonstrate, according to Foxx, the “pent-up demand out there for innovative, forward-looking efforts such as this.”

U.S. DOT will choose five finalists from the pool of 77 applicants in March, at Austin’s South by Southwest festival. Those cities will then be granted an additional $100,000 to study and finalize their proposals. The winner, to be announced in June, will then receive the $40 million from the federal government, as well as an additional $10 million from philanthropist Paul Allen’s Vulcan, Inc., to make their proposal a reality.

Photo: Traffic in the District of Columbia, one of the cities that entered the challenge (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com).

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