City Councilman Dan Gilman is “very optimistic” when it comes to Pittsburgh’s chances of winning $50 million in grant funds that would propel the Steel City to be a worldwide leader in the field of transportation.
One of seven finalists of the Smart City Challenge, a federal initiative that will provide the winning city with $40 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation — with another $10 million coming from the Seattle-based investment firm Vulcan, Inc. — Pittsburgh is competing with Austin (Texas), Columbus (Ohio), Denver, Kansas City (Mo.), Portland (Oregon) and San Francisco in the winner-take-all challenge to build technology-based systems to improve transportation.
Pittsburgh was one of 77 cities that applied for the challenge in February. The team behind the application included Allegheny County, Carnegie Mellon University’s Metro21 and Technologies for Safe and Efficient Transportation Center, the University of Pittsburgh and the Port Authority of Allegheny County.
The Pittsburgh team was awarded $100,000 to finalize its application. The winner will be announced in June.
The Pittsburgh team’s application builds upon existing work by the Traffic21 and Metro21 Initiatives at CMU, the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center formed by the city, Allegheny County and the University of Pittsburgh, and other initiatives.
“This will be a complete game-changer for the winning city,” said Gilman, councilman for District 8, which includes Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, Oakland and Point Breeze.
The projects being developed here, Gilman said, are innovative and, if implemented, will greatly improve transportation in his district and beyond.
One of those projects is the expansion of electric traffic signals that can communicate with one another based on where vehicles are on the road in order to improve traffic flow. Another project involves “smart parking” in which rates are based on times of day and other factors in order to better support local businesses.
“I’m very optimistic that Pittsburgh’s application will be competitive,” Gilman said. “The team we have put together is strong. Winning the challenge will transform all nine districts in a major way.”
Pittsburgh’s proposal is unique, noted Gilman, in that it is a comprehensive plan.
“It’s not limited to one single project, but it is about how to build a new system of systems to support the ever-changing transportation needs in a city,” he said.
The Pittsburgh proposal is also comprehensive geographically, he said, and is intentional about addressing the needs of “historically underinvested neighborhoods.”
“We’re really focused on using this to promote equity and correcting the mistakes of the past,” Gilman explained, adding there are many neighborhoods in the city that are “primed for reinvestment and improved transit access.”
A U.S. Department of Transportation study called “Beyond Traffic 2045: Trends and Choices” showed that “many communities will experience rapid population increases and rapidly growing demands on their transportation infrastructure in the next few decades,” according to a prepared statement from USDOT. “The Smart City Challenge is designed to help cities begin to address the difficulties these trends present.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.