The U.S. Department of Transportation recently chose Austin, Texas as one of seven finalists in its Smart City challenge. The winning city will receive up to $40 million to "become the country’s first city to fully integrate innovative technologies – self-driving cars, connected vehicles, and smart sensors – into their transportation network."
One of my favorite things about Austin is how its residents regularly merge the worlds of design, science and engineering. Just consider The Pecan Street Project. So I'm not surprised to learn Austin's Smart City proposal outlines a fully integrated, first-of-its-kind transportation network using data, technology and creativity to improve mobility and people’s access to opportunity, while improving safety and addressing climate change. It's a model for the U.S. of a city can be techno-savvy, inclusive, green and resilient.
I've been following the Smart City challenge closely because a key partner is my employer, The University of Texas at Austin. Our Center for Transportation Research plans to work with large-scale data and that will improve how transportation providers, including businesses and government entities, shape mobility through management and operations. Meanwhile, the Austin Technology Incubator will offer entrepreneurial expertise to develop and implement practical, innovative solutions to problems addressed by the city and its partners. And the LBJ School of Public Affairs is addressing the linkage between transportation and affordability, working to increase access to opportunity for all.
And here's the part I like best: The proposed mobility system will create an urban environment that preserves natural resources and addresses Austin's climate goals. There are plans for an electric vehicle fleet, travel access hubs with multi-modal options, strategically placed "smart stations" and car share vehicles to reduce emissions, carbon-based fuel consumption and pollution.
Austin is already a smart city when it comes to addressing energy challenges. With a smart grid infrastructure in place, a net zero greenhouse gas emissions goal by 2050 and growing use of solar and wind power, we're on the right track. If selected as the Smart City challenge winner, our very fast-growing city would be able to build upon past success by tackling the impacts of urban sprawl and a population that's overly dependent on cars.
Austin's proposal is based on accessible, well-defined transportation standards that are safe, efficient and sustainable. If the city wins it would become a wonderful model for nationwide action and broader deployment.