COLUMBUS, Ohio — Maybe it was Midwestern modesty. Or perhaps it was a deer-in-the-headlights realization that transportation leaders from across the country would now be watching them.
But when Columbus, Ohio, beat 77 cities from across the United States to win the federal government's Smart City Challenge in 2016, the initial elation was followed by apprehension.
"When we won, I think we thought maybe we were further behind some other cities," said Jordan Davis, director of Smart Columbus, a joint-venture organization created to spearhead the public and private sectors' smart-themed initiatives. "We had every vendor knocking on our door, pitching this and that."
But Columbus wasn't behind cities such as tech-savvy San Francisco or Austin, two of the seven finalists for the $40 million in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation and $10 million from billionaire Paul Allen's Vulcan Inc. Much of the transportation technology that leaders across America envisioned as a means to reinventing their cities remained in its infancy.
Three years after winning the Smart City Challenge, which helped Columbus further raise $720 million in private-sector pledges, Columbus has indeed delivered on many goals. It deployed automated vehicles and connected cars, installed electric charging infrastructure and encouraged adoption of green-friendly vehicles. In August, a beta version launched of Pivot, an app that allows customers to plan and pay for multimodal travel.
Davis and others have figured out where the promises of tomorrow meet the realities of today. At a time when the drumbeat to push smart technology has reached a starry-eyed crescendo, Columbus offers a clear-headed playbook on what a Smart City is actually capable of in 2019.