‘Colorado Smart Cities’ effort shifts focus toward results

Front Range alliance brainstorms tech solutions for traffic, sustainability

Posted 8/26/19

In the face of crippling traffic and a ballooning population, cities across the Front Range are continuing down what they hope is a “smarter” road to dealing with the growing pains. “In 2018, …

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‘Colorado Smart Cities’ effort shifts focus toward results

Front Range alliance brainstorms tech solutions for traffic, sustainability

Posted

In the face of crippling traffic and a ballooning population, cities across the Front Range are continuing down what they hope is a “smarter” road to dealing with the growing pains.

“In 2018, it was really about building relationships between the partners,” said Jake Rishavy, co-founder of the Colorado Smart Cities Alliance. “Now, those conversations are moving toward defining projects.”

The alliance — now including 19 cities from Fort Collins down to Pueblo — gathered in the downtown Denver area for its third time in as many years to spark ideas on issues such as transportation, energy and the environment.

At the CO Smart Cities Symposium on Aug. 20, local government officials and technology industry leaders discussed topics that ranged from internet access in low-income communities to regulating electric scooters on city streets. And although the event focused on brainstorming, one project is seeing concrete progress in the south Denver metro area.

“It’s very difficult to align these efforts across jurisdictions,” said Rishavy, who led a panel discussion on transportation at the symposium. “Denver south as a community is on the right path.”

The event’s theme, “From hype to action,” nods to the long way the alliance has yet to go in making changes that residents can feel, but here’s a look at what’s cooking and how heads are coming together in the south metro region.

Getting the green light

In the Interstate 25 corridor outside Denver, South Yosemite Street has become a common alternative for drivers to skirt the highway traffic.

In early 2017, the mayors of Centennial, Lone Tree and Greenwood Village met with the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Denver South Economic Development Partnership — a nonprofit that works to improve the south metro economy — to discuss ways to ease traffic. Yosemite Street was the best candidate for improvement for its high-density load during rush hour.

That road runs through all three cities, and it’s home to a pilot — or starter — project where sensors will gather data all the way from Lincoln to Belleview avenues.

The data will develop a picture of traffic volume at certain points during the day, along with time spent waiting at stoplights. After the initial data collection phase, traffic lights will be coordinated in an adaptive system to make their timing more responsive to traffic flows.

The cities expect to implement the system after the holidays, according Seth Hoffman, Lone Tree’s city manager.

Centennial’s network of traffic cameras — part of its Intelligent Transportation System — is already in place on some roads for traffic monitoring. The Yosemite Street project with sensors is another part of the ITS, which also aims to help nearby cities coordinate during traffic accidents.

The Yosemite project is the only one announced publicly so far in the south metro region, said Rishavy, who is also the vice president of innovation for the Denver South Economic Development Partnership.

The ITS connects to Centennial’s underground network of fiber-optic cable, which was completed in late 2018 after construction that began in 2016.

‘Laying the framework’

Although the spark that led to the Yosemite project predated the Colorado Smart Cities Alliance, which formed in September 2017, the three cities involved — along with CDOT — are part of that group.

The alliance has brought “tremendous value” to Lone Tree because “like traffic congestion, very few problems start or stop at our city borders,” Hoffman said.

“We have been sharing information about the Lone Tree Link, our popular on-demand shuttle system, with many other organizations,” Hoffman added. “Now we’ve figured out how to deliver shared, on-demand rides and see that it’s taken cars off the road, we’re hopeful that other cities and agencies will offer the same or similar service to reduce traffic congestion across the region.”

Centennial Mayor Stephanie Piko attended the symposium, where much of what was shared could apply to Centennial, she said.

“We have started to lay the framework for smart technologies through our fiber backbone and ITS,” Piko said. “I’d also like to recognize many Centennial-based businesses are making their mark in the realm of being ‘smart.’”

On the way

Possible future projects are being discussed with south metro cities and counties, Rishavy said.

“Traffic engineers, public works, community planners and other technical staff from Centennial, Lone Tree, Greenwood Village, and Arapahoe and Douglas counties work together regularly on projects with the support of the Denver South Transportation Management Association,” Rishavy added. The TMA is a partnership of local governments and private entities in the south I-25 corridor working toward transportation solutions.

Last month, the alliance launched a formal process, the “deployment board,” made up of all the alliance’s cities, Rishavy said. The board will evaluate proposals, prioritize what the cities want to work on and propose those projects to their industry and academic partners, he added.

“The future is going to be the collaboration between many parties and aligning interests of these stakeholders,” Rishavy said. “Understanding (that) will become the challenge of the future.”

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