What Will Denver Do If It Wins the “Smart City Challenge”?

Denver may receive $50 million to enhance street safety, cut traffic and emissions, and create a more seamless transportation network using new technology and big data. The Mile High City is one of seven finalists for the Department of Transportation’s “Smart City Challenge” grant, Secretary Anthony Foxx announced Saturday at South by Southwest in Austin.

Denver may use “smart city” grant money to implement signal priority for buses, speeding up transit trips.

So what will Denver do if it wins the grant? The city’s application to DOT offers some hints. Essentially, city officials want to use the grant as a springboard to implement technologies that enable communication between street infrastructure, vehicles, and people.

For example, buses could “talk” to traffic signals to minimize the time bus riders have to wait at red lights. Or parking spaces could guide drivers to open spots to minimize circling around city streets. Denver may also team up with Colorado DOT to expand its connected vehicle initiative to urban streets. The idea is that vehicles will communicate with one another and with the streetscape to avoid crashes caused by human error.

“I think right now the mentality is, the only way we have transportation freedom is if we have a single occupancy vehicle at our disposal,” said Denver Director of Transportation Crissy Fanganello. “But how do we make a transportation system work in such a way that you feel so free to use any mode because they’re all that easy and convenient?”

Fanganello thinks Denver is well-positioned to receive the grant, largely because of four RTD rail lines opening this year and 2 million feet of fiber optic cable already installed underground.

It helps that transportation issues have a higher profile in the Mile High City lately, she said. “We’ve been riding the wave so to speak for the past year or so, in terms of the interest and importance of transportation and mobility in the city, which I think has been very good overall.”

DOT gave the finalists $100,000 to further develop their ideas. Foxx will name the winner in June. Denver is up against Austin, Columbus, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland, and San Francisco. If you have ideas about how the city should put “smart city” money to good use, you can submit them through the city’s website.