Pittsburgh makes final pitch in national competition

By Alexa Bakalarski / News Editor

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Mayor Bill Peduto spent Thursday afternoon in Washington, D.C., making a final pitch for help in transforming the steel city into a smart city.

Pittsburgh is competing against six other finalists in the U.S. Department of Transportation Smart City Challenge — a national program that offers more than $40 million in total to the city with the best plan for fully integrating innovative technologies into transportation. The mayors of the seven finalist cities made their last case to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and the DOT for their city in a three-minute video and a seven-minute oral presentation on Thursday afternoon. The DOT will select the winner by the end of this month.

“But instead of doing this in sort of a closed — you know — smoke-filled government room,” Foxx said about the final presentations.  “We decided to open up the consideration process and let the public see and hear what we see and hear about these seven dynamic communities that have their own challenges that are unique to them and their own solutions that they’ve tailored in reaction to this proposal.”

About 2,000 viewers watched the livestream of the presentations online, done by U.S. state, county and municipal government news outlet Route Fifty.

Pittsburgh was among 78 applicants when the competition launched last December. The Department of Transportation has since narrowed that list down to just six others, including including Columbus, Ohio; Kansas City, Kansas; Austin, Texas; Denver, Colorado; San Francisco, California and Portland, Oregon.

Pittsburgh’s smart city plan includes traffic signals that will use sensor detection to make traffic patterns more efficient, creating electric avenues to pilot self-driven vehicles and energy-saving streetlights that can “talk” to one another and monitor air quality. People with disabilities will be able to use their phones to signal for crossing the street. The plan also includes connecting Pittsburgh’s homeless community to public transit for free.

“Smart PGH isn’t simply our next project, it’s our next chance, a chance to chart a course, to bridge the gaps between ourselves, a chance to be the blueprint for other cities like us,” the voiceover for Pittsburgh’s three-minute video said. “We’re thinkers and doers, it’s what’s allowed us to bounce back, to shake off the rust and keep moving.”

As part of its plan, Pittsburgh focuses on connecting people to jobs, reconnecting areas of the city such as the Hill District and Hazelwood, as well as adding more public transportation options from Oakland to Downtown.

“And what I can tell you is for the first time in 40 years the future is bright for the city of Pittsburgh —  except for the 25 percent of the city that have no connection to it,” Peduto said. “But Pittsburgh is the resilient city.  We look at challenges square in the face, and we work together as a team.”

Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc., a company based out of Seattle, Washington, that supports data-driven initiatives globally, is contributing an additional $10 million to the challenge, as well as providing technological assistance and guidance to finalist cities.

Other partners for the challenge will contribute assistance, support and funds to the winning city as well, including Mobileye, Autodesk, Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs and Amazon Web Services.

At the event, Foxx also announced that AT&T recently joined the Smart City Challenge as a sponsor. The phone company will give more than $1 million to the winning city for vehicle to vehicle technology.

“And if this Smart City Challenge means anything, it means that the future of America is bright when we force ourselves to stop looking through the rear view mirror and look through the front windshield and go,” Foxx said.

Pittsburgh’s video and presentation championed a hard-work ethic and an innovative spirit as part of the city’s DNA.

“This is the chance to design, plan, and build the next Pittsburgh,” Peduto said. “We stand ready to implement this plan. We have proven time and again that we can do anything, because we work as a team.  And we look forward to standing once again on that world stage when it comes to looking at the cities that are leaders of innovation.”

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