Portland shows off transportation technology in bid for $50 million grant
Portland transportation officials are imagining a future where vehicles talk to municipal infrastructure, which in turn talks back.
That might seem a distant future. But as the city tries to bolster its chances in a $50 million “Smart City” competition, it sought Monday to show through a technology expo the high-tech solutions already working in the real world.
Portland, along with six other cities, was named a finalist in March for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. The winning city will eventually win a $40 million grant from the transportation department, $10 million from Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc. and free access to a suite of technological tools and software.
City officials are preparing an application that includes new, smarter infrastructure along the Powell-Division corridor in Southeast Portland and Columbia Boulevard in North Portland, as well as other technology deployed around the city. It’s also proposed an app that would let residents compare various transportation options and pricing on the fly.
At Monday’s expo, Eugene-based Connected Signals showed off its EnLighten app, which tells drivers when a traffic signal will turn red or green, and whether they can expect to make it through a signal before it changes.
If a red arrow indicates the driver won’t make the light, the driver can save some gas by easing off the accelerator. And if a driver is stopped at a red light and adjusting the radio or talking to a passenger, a chime will let them know the light is about to turn green.
“We try to make them more fuel efficient, to the extent we can do that while keeping them safe,” said Matthew Ginsberg, chief executive of Connected Signals. “And we try to make them less stressed, which simultaneously makes them more fuel efficient and safe.”
The app uses data provided by the city, which was second after Eugene to participate. It’s also now available in Salt Lake City and some cities in southern California.
Urban.Systems, another exhibitor Monday, showed off the Pangea electric bus, which is available at the $15,000 price tag of a compact sedan. The vehicle is built with about 300 parts, compared with thousands in an average vehicle.
The vehicle will be built at a tech incubator run by Jaguar Land Rover in Northwest Portland. A pilot project will make the buses available for transportation at Addis Ababa University in the capital of Ethiopia. They’re also running in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines.
Urban.Systems chief executive Wilfred Pinfold said he could also see the buses making a last-mile connection between public transit and riders’ final destinations. It would provide carpool-like service, dropping off and picking up other riders along the way.
“The idea is to help the city become less car-oriented and more people-oriented, Pinfold said.
Portland’s effort to woo federal officials and win the $50 million challenge continues later this week.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, the former mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, will visit Portland on Wednesday in a tour of the challenge finalists.
The other finalists announced in March at the South by Southwest Interactive technology festival included host city Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Denver, Colorado; Kansas City, Missouri; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and San Francisco.