Daily Distraction: Wired explores Columbus' seeming 'Smart City' flop

The magazine wrote that 'a smart-city revolution in Columbus may have been overly ambitious from the start'

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Provided Photo of Columbus skyline and shuttle.

In 2016, Columbus beat out 77 other small and midsized cities to win the first Smart City Challenge put on by the Department of Transportation, receiving a $50 million grant designed to advance new technological solutions to old travel problems.

Five years later, owing to the combination of a pandemic, technical hurdles and bureaucracy, not much progress has been made, according to a detailed new piece published by Wired.

The magazine writes:

The Smart City Challenge is over, but the revolution never arrived. According to the project’s final report, issued this month by the city’s Smart Columbus Program, the pandemic hit just as some projects were getting off the ground. Six kiosks placed around the city were used to plan just eight trips between July 2020 and March 2021. The company EasyMile launched autonomous shuttles in February 2020, carrying passengers at an average speed of 4 miles per hour. Fifteen days later, a sudden brake sent a rider to the hospital, pausing service. The truck project was canceled. Only 1,100 people downloaded an app, called Pivot, to plan and reserve trips on ride-hail vehicles, shared bikes and scooters, and public transit.

...

In the end, a smart-city revolution in Columbus may have been overly ambitious from the start. “A lot of people were expecting a lot from this project, and perhaps too much,” says Harvey Miller, a geography professor and director of the Center for Urban and Regional Analysis at Ohio State University, who helped plan and evaluate the challenge.

Still, city officials refrained from calling the program a flop (obviously), with Wired noting that the final report prepared by officials deemed the project a success, along with details that five of the eight projects launched by the challenge will continue, including a citywide “operating system” to share data between government and private entities, the smart kiosks, and the parking and trip-planning apps.

Not mentioned among the continuing projects? The much-debated self-driving shuttles, which managed to make Alive's Worst of Columbus list in both 2019 and 2020.

Visit Wired here to read the full article.