DOT, Paul Allen's Vulcan Inc Launch Smart City Transportation Challenge

The U.S. DOT on December 7 announced it's joining with Paul Allen's Vulcan Inc. in launching a $40+ million Smart City Challenge centered on identifying and developing practical, cost-efficient means of addressing climate change by making innovative use of technology to improve urban transportation systems.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx December 7 took to the Web to announce the Department of Transportation (DOT) is joining with Paul Allen's Vulcan Inc. to carry out a $40-plus million dollar sustainable smart city transportation initiative.

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Taking the form of a Smart City Challenge, mid-sized U.S. cities (populations 200,000-850,000) are being encouraged to propose projects that take a holistic, integrated approach in envisioning how innovative use of technology can reduce urban greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and make transportation safer, more cost-efficient and effective.

“This is an opportunity for the winning city to define what it means to be a ‘Smart City’ when it comes to transportation. We encourage cities to develop their own unique vision, partnerships and blueprints to demonstrate to the world what a fully integrated, forward-looking transportation network looks like,” Secretary Foxx said in a statement.

“America can remain the global leader in maintaining the safest, most efficient system in the world: I am looking for mayors who share that belief to join us in pushing the boundaries of what is possible.”

Improving urban transportation and reducing emissions

Both cities and transportation rank among the largest sources of U.S. GHG emissions. Furthermore, DOT highlights the need to craft and implement sustainable, economically and environmentally sustainable urban transportation solutions. In its ¨Beyond Traffic¨ report, DOT determined that aging U.S. transportation infrastructure in regions across the U.S. is inadequate to cope with fast-growing populations and transportation needs.

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This is precisely the type of fundamental issue the federal government's Smart City Challenge is meant to address. Interested parties are invited to submit Smart City Challenge applications that provide ¨high-level¨ project descriptions by February 6, 2016. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has posted an online Notice of Funding Opportunity.

Five projects are to be selected this spring following evaluation of all proposals by a multidisciplinary team of career DoT staff, Secretary Foxx explained.

Each of the five will receive $100,000 in DOT funding and work with Vulcan to further develop and refine their project proposals. The winning proposal will be announced in June and be awarded as much as $40 million from DOT, as well as up to $10 million from Vulcan.

Elaborating further, DOT explains that it is looking for proposals that entail making innovative use of technologies as part of integrated urban transportation plans that increase safety, reduce emissions and enhance mobility.

More specifically, DOT adds that ¨these innovations will connect people, vehicles, public transportation, and infrastructure through ITS, sharing economy, and other technologies that improve the way Americans move, whether it be to drop off kids at school, pick up their groceries, get to work, and receive critical services.¨

“Transformative innovation takes ambitious support from both the government and the private sector. That’s why we’re partnering with the DOT to inspire innovative, scalable, proof-of-concept solutions to address some of our planet’s most urgent challenges,” Vulcan president and COO Barbara Bennett was quoted as saying. “We hope that together we can spur change by demonstrating what is possible through replicable models.”

Squeezing GHG emissions out of transportation

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Vulcan's involvement in the DOT's Smart City transportation challenge derives from founder Paul Allen's interests in ocean health and developing emissions-free energy technologies, Vulcan senior climate project developer Spencer Reeder told GWIR. Reeder is representing Vulcan at the UNFCCC COP-21 climate talks now underway in Paris.

From basic and applied climate research to the development of commercial clean energy projects, Vulcan has funded and carried out a wide variety of projects that make innovative use of technology to meet the challenge of monitoring climate change, reducing GHG emissions and finding practical solutions to climate change, Reeder highlighted.

The onset and effects of ocean acidification – particularly in the U.S. Northwest – elevated the prominence climate change among n Allen and Vulcan's numerous environmental philanthropy initiatives, he added. ¨Over the last two years, Vulcan has made a concerted effort to focus¨ on the issue, he said.

Noting the large part cities and transportation play in U.S. GHG emissions, joining with DOT in the Smart City Challenge is a natural extension of these activities. ¨We're looking for higher efficiency in transport systems and electrification of vehicles as core components in terms of how our money is deployed,¨ Reeder continued.

¨We´re specifically talking about efficiency in terms of emissions reductions and energy use [in transportation],¨ Vulcan's senior director of corporate communications Alexa Rudin added.

Via the Smart City Challenge, ¨we intend to show what's possible, what mid-sized cities can accomplish by creating models for integrated transportation systems that are replicable and scalable up or down.¨

Regarding DOT Smart City Challenge proposals, Vulcan will be looking for those that adopt a holistic approach that looks at all elements of a transportation system in an integrated manner.

¨It's up to cities to use their collective imaginations and vision; our interest is in helping guide them in tailoring applications. That encompasses the full gamut of urban transport: corporate and government vehicle fleets, taxi fleets, etc.,¨ Reeder said.

Modes and means of transportation a large impact on climate not only in terms of direct GHG emissions from vehicles, but as a result of their energy sources, Reeder added. ¨We really want to see where we can use electricity wherever possible for the transportation system. We're asking cities to look at the whole system in its entirety and squeeze out as much as possible in terms of GHG emissions reductions.¨

*Image credits: 1), 3) Wikipedia; 2) Green2Stay.com

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