12:38 PM

Self-driving cars, smart streetlights could lead to healthier Columbus

Columbus is well on its way to becoming a smart city, but will advances in transportation technology make it a healthier city? That was the question discussed by experts from The Ohio State University and Columbus Public Health at a public forum on Friday.

“Transportation is in fact a public health issue,” said Pam Salsberry, associate dean for community outreach and engagement in the College of Public Health.

The Center for Urban and Regional Analysis hosted the event to discuss how the recently awarded Smart City Challenge grant will affect health outcomes in at-risk communities.

The city of Columbus, with the help of Ohio State, won the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. The victory came with a $40 million federal grant and a $10 million contribution from the private-investment firm Vulcan Inc. Ohio State is the lead research institution for the initiative.

Over the next several years, the city will use the grant funding and millions in private investments to improve how people get around the city as well as how they connect with one another.

“We definitely live in an opportunity city but we know there are pockets of community that don’t have the same opportunities that many of us have,” said Dr. Mysheika Roberts, assistant health commissioner for Columbus Public Health.

The Linden neighborhood is one of the areas targeted for Smart City investments. Technology advances that could benefit the neighborhood include smart streetlights that carry free public Wi-Fi into area homes or a greater variety of public transportation to help people get to jobs or appointments.

Salsberry pointed out that unreliable transportation can lead to missed doctor’s appointments – and that affects community health.

It’s critical to get the people who live in those neighborhoods to understand how new technology will benefit them, said Jason Reece, assistant professor in the city and regional planning section of the Knowlton School of Architecture.

“What we need to think about doing is this deeper community engagement so we understand the exact needs of the community,” Reece said.

Columbus has already hosted several meetings in the Linden area to gather community feedback about the Smart City program.

Developing transportation solutions for the city’s aging population is another target area for investments that could improve lives. Autonomous cars or ride-sharing services would shuttle people who can no longer drive to a variety of destinations, keeping them engaged in the community.

“There’s a lot of research that shows once a person is homebound and not able to move themselves around, their quality of life declines significantly,” said Joanna Pinkerton, co-director of the Honda/Ohio State partnership.

The city has until 2020 to implement the plans in the Smart City Challenge grant proposal.