How Charlotte Is Helping Cities Like Dallas Develop Smarter Infrastructure

Dallas, Texas

Dallas, Texas kan_khampanya /


Connecting state and local government leaders

A new federal initiative, Envision America, will help adapt the Queen City’s best practices for a Dallas Innovation Alliance mass transit solution.

Back in September, the Dallas Innovation Alliance launched the same day as the White House’s “Smart Cities” Initiative. And that’s when the alliance’s co-founders learned about this week’s Envision America workshop in Charlotte, North Carolina, which is aimed at accelerating the deployment of innovative technologies in U.S. cities.

The three-day workshop, which starts Tuesday, represents the Obama administration’s efforts to replicate the best practices from the nonprofit Envision Charlotte energy conservation program—featured by Route Fifty in April—and adapt them for use in 10 selected cities, including Dallas.

Like Charlotte, Dallas is taking a similar approach to integrating smart infrastructure through a public-private partnership and hopes to continue developing relationships with industry experts.

“Dallas is a city that has a lot of sprawl, and we’re lucky to have the largest light rail system in the country,” Jennifer Sanders, DIA cofounder, told Route Fifty in an interview. “So we really want to increase ridership and utilization of mass transit because traffic is such a problem like it is everywhere in the country.”

The Big D chose mobility as its target for the workshop because it’s “one of the more complicated initiatives to implement,” she said, needing a comprehensive plan and platform integrating independent agencies like the North Texas Tollway Authority, North Central Texas Council of Governments, Dallas Area Rapid Transit and Parks and Recreation Department.

Having a narrow focus has been key to Envision Charlotte’s success, honing in on commercial buildings, setting up meters and gathering baseline energy use data in partnership with the city, Duke Energy, universities and other nonprofits.

“Cities are realizing you can be so much more efficient with the technology coming out, but you have to change the model,” Amy Aussieker, Envision Charlotte’s executive director, said in an interview. “Cities were once siloed across departments and procurement models such that by the time they selected technology it was dated, but you need to collaborate to implement efficiencies.”

Aussieker believes 2016 is a pivotal year for cities because while there’s long been a marketing buzz around the “smart city,” people are slowly coming to terms with what that actually means.

Sensors, smart meters and analytics will be highlighted in Envision America’s discussions, once the workshop’s 10 winning cities have explained to the general audience the initiatives they’re aiming to fine-tune.

SAS, a Cary, North Carolina-based data analytics company, is just one vendor that will be present for the workshop to help cities grapple with using their data more effectively. SAS can provide cities with one-time answers to data-related questions or develop tools to run analytics over all municipal data for ongoing findings.

“Cities are collecting copious amounts of data, and now you can do analytics on the move and on the edge,” Jennifer Robinson, SAS senior industry consultant on local government, said in an interview. “The data can be massaged and the analysis used to help government be more effective.”

Dallas is considering investing in technology that allows for real-time traffic monitoring, fully integrated trip planning and rerouting buses based on demand—layering data platforms for a comprehensive approach to mobility.

A multimodal Internet of Things solution that includes smart parking, promoting electric vehicle use and bikesharing is the city’s ultimate goal. DIA intends to start by addressing the state of parking downtown, where traffic congestion is caused by people circling for open spaces, as well as the lack of bike lanes.

“We want to ensure citizens are provided every possible transit option on their commute,” Sanders said.

Sanders, DIA co-founder Trey Bowles, Dallas Chief Information Officer Bill Finch and possibly a representative from DART will attend the Envision America workshop and look for ways to forge university partnerships and obtain federal funding.

DIA will pick its first projects shortly after the workshop, Sanders said, but expect data to feature prominently.

“Mobility data collected about congestion, road closures and even infrastructure maintenance is used to help roads function better with less congestion and optimize routes,” Robinson said. “There’s really a tremendous amount of opportunities out there.”

PREVIOUSLY on Route Fifty: Local Government Takes a Backseat in Charlotte’s Energy Initiative

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty.

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