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Self-Driving Cars to Transform Columbus, Ohio, Thanks to Big Cash Win

Love self-driving cars? You’re gonna love Columbus, Ohio.

The 15th largest city in the nation is now a lot richer, thanks to its first-place finish in the Smart City Challenge put on by the U.S. Department of Education (DOT). Columbus wins $40 million from the DOT, plus an additional $10 million from Vulcan Inc., a company owned by businessman and philanthropist Paul G. Allen. Those funds are in addition to $90 million that the city has already obtained on its own to support its self-driving initiative.

City Different

Columbus will use the cash to effectively revolutionize the way people get around in the city, funding the growth of self-driving cars and connecting Columbus’s communities. The money will also help the city create innovative smart technologies that will serve the needs of both younger and older residents.

Mayor Andrew Ginther said the Smart Columbus initiative will “deliver an unprecedented multimodal transportation system that will not only benefit the people of central Ohio but potentially all midsized cities.”

Getting Around, Simplified

Seventy-eight cities applied for the Smart City Challenge, one from nearly every midsized city in America. The seven finalists — Austin, Columbus, Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland and San Francisco — were announced in March. The competition required each city to think about transportation as cross-functional, a kind of ecosystem.

According to the DOT, Columbus won the top prize because it outlined an impressive, holistic vision for how technology can help all the city’s residents move more easily. The city proposed having three electric, self-driving shuttles to link a new bus rapid-transit center to a retail district, connecting more residents to work opportunities. The city also aims to utilize data analysis to improve health care access in a neighborhood with skyrocketing infant mortality rates — four times that of the national average. This would allow the city to offer improved transportation options to those most in need of critical prenatal care.

This is a huge win for a place aptly nicknamed Discovery City. Kudos to Columbus for forging new digital paths.


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