Tuesday, March 8, 2016

B'smart Baltimore, the City's application for a federal grant

As reported in February, Baltimore applied for the US-DOT Smart Cities challenge grant. The application has finally been made public a few days before the City will hear back whether it will be one of the five cities invited for round two.

Below a few central points from the application which show how the City would like to define its role under the current Mayor. The question of smart city should become a topic in the mayoral race as well:
Previously disconnected rural and suburban communities, urban
areas suffered the consequences. Highways were constructed through previously vibrant urban communities, displacing families and destroying property along the way. Those with the necessary means relocated to the suburbs. Those remaining were left disconnected from economic opportunity
and upward mobility, and were forced to depend increasingly on limited public transit options.
This  vicious cycle continued to accelerate over time, concentrating poverty in neighborhoods with poor transportation connections, fewer jobs, higher crime, and inadequate access to important services including healthcare, food, and more recently, broadband Internet access.
Though much promise exists for smart city technologies to lead a revitalization of urban communities across the nation, issues in making this vision a reality remain. The Baltimore Vision for Smart City (B’Smart) is a bold step forward that connects communities to opportunities, starting with historically underserved neighborhoods in West Baltimore that bore the brunt of displacement and disconnection through the construction of the “highway to nowhere” in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
To transform Baltimore into a city of greater economic prosperity and social equity, it is vital to successfully demonstrate how smart city technologies can better connect low-income communities, often with limited access to Internet and smartphones, to economic opportunities, and how these technologies integrate with the existing infrastructure and create new prospects within these communities.
From Baltimore's application: Hub elements

The central suggestion in the proposal deals with "Smart Community Hubs described this way:
At its core are the Smart Community Hubs, where traditional transit services meet smart mobility services, enabled by connected/automated/electric vehicles and the sharing economy, to provide low-cost options to connect users to transit hubs and final destinations. These hubs will also house electric vehicle and
smart grid infrastructure, public Internet/Wi-Fi/Smart phone portals, next-generation city logistics operations, on-site job training opportunities and additional features that will attract new businesses and spur economic development.
The application does not mention the State taking $2.9 billion transportation money off the table (including $900 that US-DOT had recommended as federal support) and instead emphasizes State commitments in the wake of the unrest, including the $700 million community investments that really were pre-existing programs and the $138 million designated for the revamping of the ailing Baltimore bus transit system. It is hard to imagine that US_DOT already forgot that the $900 million went unused, but if they paid attention they won't blame the City.

The City seems to have learned a lesson from the Red Line, namely that one needs support from a whole team and submitted the proposal as a team with wide ranging partnerships.
Baltimore is the ideal candidate for the USDOT Smart City Challenge. Following the civil unrest that took place in West Baltimore this past spring, city, regional, state, federal and private-sector leaders have publicly stated their commitment to revitalizing underserved communities in Baltimore. In 2015 alone, USDOT chose West Baltimore as one of the seven cities to receive technical assistance for economic development related to transportation projects through its LadderStep pilot. The State announced a $700 million plan to eliminate blight in West Baltimore and a $135 million plan to improve transit service.
At the heart of the Baltimore team are more than 50 committed city, regional and state agencies, leading universities, locally invested non-profits, and Fortune 500 corporate partners. The assets, expertise and commitment these partners bring, coupled with the B’Smart vision and the USDOT Smart City challenge investment, will generate the biggest, most progressive, and most transferable impact with the highest chance of truly transformative success.
From Baltimore's application: Hub locations
 The application is graphically pleasing and comprehensive. Word is that Baltimore has a good chance to be one of the shortlisted five cities that will received $200,000 each to refine that application in order to receive the full grant of $40 million. US DOT had described the task this way:
The vision of the Smart City Challenge is to demonstrate and evaluate a holistic, integrated approach to improving surface transportation performance within a city and integrating this approach with other smart city domains such as public safety, public services, and energy. The USDOT intends for this challenge to address how emerging transportation data, technologies, and applications can be integrated with existing systems in a city to address transportation challenges. The USDOT seeks bold and innovative ideas for proposed demonstrations to effectively test, evaluate, and demonstrate the significant benefits of smart city concepts. 
The USDOT will make an award of up to $40 Million award for one mid-sized city that can demonstrate how advanced data and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) technologies and applications can be used to reduce congestion, keep travelers safe, protect the environment, respond to climate change, connect underserved communities, and support economic vitality. 
From looking through the application I can see it is heavy on equity issues, electric vehicle technology, WIFI and integrating the internet with vehicles but not especially strong in addressing the challenges of the automated vehicle (AV), in other words the self driving car.
As I noted in many previous blogs, the AV can represent and enormous challenge to cities by promoting sprawl through an automated commute or it can be a game changer in a positive way by freeing up lots of space currently devoted to cars. The latter positive effect would not come by itself. It would require urban policies that would encourage car sharing (instead of owning) and prudent plans for accommodating this new share mobility in terms of staging share vehicles, accessing them and allowing facilities for overnight parking and maintenance.

It is my hunch that USDOT wants to see what cities suggest about the AV and how it could be managed. Innovation districts in which only share AV's can circulate would be one of the ideas I would expect in a Smart City applications.

Not long ago the now ailing CitiStat was one of Baltimore's claims to fame. CitiStat was a tool towards a smart city that brought interested mayors from around the world to Baltimore. Baltimore's application does not make CityStat front and center as the hard earned base from which to move forward towards a smart(er) city. I hope that USDOT will select Baltimore as one of the finalists so we can finally begin to put something in place that makes Baltimore truly different than it was before the unrest.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

CityLab about the challenge grant and the use of smart city illustrations such as Autodesk Infraworks 360

From Coppin University President Dr. Maria Thompson's support letter:

The above list is an impressive assembly of efforts that seek to make Baltimore smarter and the westside communities
stronger. However, implementation, funding and actual impact are lagging on many of these initiatives.  

Priorities per US-DOT

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