At the end of this column, I will attempt the impossible: Explain what Smart Columbus is in a single sentence.

“We struggle with that,” acknowledged Jordan Davis. And she’s the director of Smart Columbus at the Columbus Partnership.

Well, Smart Columbus involves people attempting to organize themselves to use technology in ways that cities aren’t yet using it, so I suppose a little confusion is to be expected.

But having made two visits to the newly opened Smart Columbus Experience Center (170 S. Civic Center Dr., Downtown), I’m beginning to get some notion of what it’s about. For anyone else seeking to understand it, the center is free and open 10-6 weekdays and 11-8 weekends.

You’ll see sleek electric vehicles and flashy digital displays, but I recommend the low-tech story boards, which contain vignettes about how Smart Columbus will help specific people.

Be aware that while the people are real, some of the innovations don’t exist here yet.

So, yes, Fletcher Farr is an actual Columbus police officer, but the “connected vehicle environment” that changes traffic signals so that he can speed faster to an accident scene is still in the future.

Nevertheless, I found the tales to be the quickest way to get a handle on Smart Columbus. They rely less on jargon such as “mobility ecosystem” and more on concrete examples, such as how a retirement community would use autonomous shuttles or a how a trip-planning app could tell you how to get from here to there using a combination of buses, bicycles and shared cars.

The examples range from imminent (planting sensors on Rt. 33 to provide real-time traffic information to motorists) to I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it  (the Hyperloop that will supposedly offer half-hour trips to Chicago).

Electric cars, seen as the future of personal vehicles, are heavily promoted, and AEP’s smart meters are also mentioned.

Columbus competed with several other cities to land the $50 million in grants, including $40 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation, that made Smart Columbus and its experience center possible.

The Columbus Partnership – composed of public, private and academic entities – is coordinating the effort, which has a goal of attracting $1 billion in investments.

The experience center wasn’t doing brisk business when I stopped in on Tuesday morning, but Red, White & Boom festivities were under way and it was partially hidden by a corn-dog stand. More people drifted in as the day progressed.

And now for the promised one-sentence definition: Smart Columbus is a collaborative effort to use technology and data to make transportation more efficient, energy use more sustainable and people more connected.

OK, it needs some work. I told you this was complicated.


Joe Blundo is a Dispatch columnist




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