UC Berkeley experts, San Francisco petition for ‘smart city’ funding from Department of Transportation

Amy Shen/Staff

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Campus experts have joined with the mayor of San Francisco to attempt to convince the U.S. Department of Transportation that the city is the best place to invest for a 21st-century smart transit city program.

Should the department choose the city as the winner of its Smart City Challenge, San Francisco — one of the seven finalist cities selected by the U.S. secretary of transportation — will receive $40 million in government funding to develop its proposal of “smart” infrastructure improvements. These plans include free WiFi for neighborhoods in the city, an increase in biking provisions and an integrated travel mobility app.

According to Timothy Papandreou, the director of the Office of Innovation at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the project proposal mainly comprises improvements to San Francisco’s current transportation system. Papandreou added that the proposal is expected to reduce the city’s traffic collisions and fatalities by 10 percent by 2020.

“The current transportation system is inequitable, it’s unsafe (and) it’s alienated a lot of people who can’t afford to drive,” Papandreou said.

According to Papandreou, the proposed project may also impact other cities in the Bay Area, such as Berkeley, by providing services such as late-night shuttle buses. Papandreou believes these services would create job opportunities for the low-income demographic that relies on public transportation.

The goal of the project is to provide equity across all demographics of San Francisco, especially in light of the city’s diversity, according to Alexandre Bayen, director of the UC Berkeley Institute for Transportation Studies and a campus professor of engineering.

“Every city is addressing its various challenges,” Bayen said. “San Francisco has issues with the cost of real estate, issues with congestion on the Bay Bridge and I believe (our) proposal is aimed at alleviating these challenges.”

The other six finalist cities competing for the funding are Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Kansas City, Kansas; Columbus, Ohio; Denver, Colorado; Austin, Texas; and Portland, Oregon.

Laura Melendy, assistant director for the UC Berkeley Institute of Transportation Studies, said one of the most interesting things about the San Francisco proposal is its community engagement factor. If San Francisco receives the funding, she said, it will challenge small neighborhoods to apply to participate in testing pilot programs.

“(San Francisco) is not a city where you just tell people what to do,” Melendy said. “We have really, really active communities.”

According to Papandreou, the seven finalists will each receive a $100,000 grant to further develop their proposals, while the winner of $40 million will be announced by the Department of Transportation in late June.

“We need the funding, we have really cool ideas, but they need public and private partnerships to function,” Papandreou said. “We believe this grant will be the catalyst.”

Contact Jessie Qian at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jessieq96.