Auto Show opens this weekend, showcases the future of transportation in Columbus

A&E, Local News

The Columbus Auto Show returns to the Columbus Convention Center this weekend. Throughout the weekend, attendees will have the chance to check out the latest and greatest in new cars, go for a “ride and drive” experience inside the convention center and even watch some March Madness basketball on a big screen in the “Kids Pitstop” pavilion.

One thing on display at this year’s event that may surprise some is a large area dedicated to promoting the “Smart Columbus” Initiative. At first glance, this looks like a hiply branded showcase of the “smart” brand of cars. However, this goes much deeper than the tiny Car2Go vehicles seen frequently in our city. After winning the U.S. Department of Transporation’s “Smart City” grant back in 2016, the City of Columbus was awarded $40 million to invest in emerging technologies to improve the transportation infrastructure for the greater Columbus area.

A year and a half after this initial award, Smart Columbus wants to use the auto show as a way to get residents and attendees to become enthusiastic about driving electric vehicles, taking public transportation or exploring ride sharing options to change the way this city commutes. Auto show-goers can experience this firsthand by taking one of 15 electric vehicles for a test ride, either on a small indoor track or in the streets surrounding the convention center as well.

The Smart Columbus Initiative doesn’t simply stop at being able to plug in a car you most likely can’t afford into a hip charging station parking spot. They also had a bit of focus on other, more large-scale forms of mass transportation and what they refer to as the “sharing economy” of transportation.

One way that the Smart Columbus Initiative hopes to utilize ride-sharing transportation for the future of our city is to help revitalize transportation options in the under-served neighborhood of Linden.

One of the most anticipated forms of mass transit that has a chance to come to Columbus is the Midwest Corridor Hyperloop. This route would supposedly run from Chicago, through Columbus, and would finish in Pittsburgh. Just last month, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission announced they would begin a huge $2.5 million study to evaluate the feasibility and environmental impact of the Hyperloop, which is a major step forward for this project.

“We’ve gone out there to see their test track, which is pretty mind-blowing,” Jordan Davis, the director of Smart Cities at the Columbus Partnership, said. “It really makes you believe it’s possible, which is amazing. It’s a great forward-thinking technology in terms of how we can move people and goods at a pace we haven’t seen on the ground ever.”

At the beginning of 2018, COTA began running service on its CMAX “Bus Rapid Transit” line that runs along Cleveland Avenue from downtown up to Polaris Parkway in Westerville. To showcase this new, faster way to get around the region, they also brought in one of the CMAX buses to the convention center where attendees can hop on and take a look inside. These buses run on compressed natural gas and include free Wi-Fi and USB chargers onboard.

This format, in which was a $48 million investment, is similar to Cleveland’s “HealthLine,” a dedicated rapid transit bus that runs exclusively up and down Euclid Avenue from Tower City until University Circle. However, if a Capital student were to take advantage of this new public transit opportunity, they would still need to take a bus downtown and wait for a transfer onto the CMAX.

However, the CMAX line’s location near the Linden neighborhood of Columbus offers one of many revitalizations to the historically under-served community. Ever since the construction of Interstate 71 in Columbus, there have been numerous communities in the near east side of the city cut off from downtown and left to struggle behind many of the other growing areas in the community.

Another initiative that Davis was really proud of was the Prenatal Trip Assistance project.

“We’ve learned that it’s a critical need to be solved for, in terms of making a difference in the infant mortality issue,” Davis said.

In South Linden, infant deaths are more than 4 times the national rate. Davis went on to explain that “Medicaid reimbursed rides are unreliable or will give you a window of 2 hours in which that ride will come … it’s a huge burden and creates a lot of situations in which make going to the doctor is unreasonable or undesirable. Getting to expectant mothers’ prenatal appointments is really important to a healthy birth.  We think we can solve that by applying the sharing economy and the types of technology that we have in Uber and Lyft services.”

While some plans for Smart Columbus have been brewing for awhile, many of the pilot programs for this initiative won’t get off the ground until late 2019 and 2020. With substantial additional support from private investors to supplement the Department of Transportation’s grant, this initiative has more than enough cash to be able to implement these ideas into reality.

To learn more about the Smart Columbus initiative, you can visit their booth at the Columbus Auto Show, and online at www.columbus.gov/smartcolumbus/.

The auto show will take place between 12 p.m. – 9 p.m. Thursday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 with a student ID.

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