- Published: 02 February 2020
Buffalo is still far from becoming the “smart city” Mayor Byron Brown promised in a February address. But both the city and the wider Western New York region are taking baby steps into the smart-city movement.
Tonawanda recently installed new traffic cameras that can monitor congestion and coordinate signals. The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is pitching a long-awaited Main Street “smart corridor.” And in February, the city of Buffalo is expected to make a series of announcements on upcoming technological and infrastructure investments.
It’s all part of a long-term push to harness connected sensors, cameras and other tools to optimize public services. And this year, said Jamie Hamann-Burney, the director of planning at the Medical Campus, advocates are hoping to “really see some stuff start to happen.”
Already, Western New Yorkers needn’t travel far to see smart technology in action. Two hours north, Google sister company Sidewalk Labs has proposed a $1.3-billion smart development in Toronto, complete with timber towers and subterranean robots. To the west, Columbus, Ohio, has put a $40-million federal “smart cities” grant toward investments including transit-planning apps, an autonomous shuttle and rebates for electric vehicles.
Brown promised in his 2019 State of the City address that Buffalo would also get “smart” in four years — a commitment Brown said the city has begun to fulfill with new sewer sensors, GPS-tracked garbage trucks and the upgraded Buffalo Roam parking app. Next year’s anticipated developments include the installation of connected sensors on city light poles, pending negotiations with National Grid, and the early groundwork for a “smart corridor” pilot adjoining the Medical Campus.
That corridor, pitched as part of the reconstruction of middle Main Street, would eventually include free Wi-Fi, dynamically controlled signals and a demand-sensitive parking scheme. In the immediate future, however, Hamann-Burney said the campus hopes to see the city run conduit under the road, as well as pilot new types of intersections that prioritize bicyclists and help people with visual, hearing and physical impairments.
“When people think about smart cities, they think of all the flashy, cool, technological things,” Hamann-Burney said, “but these things can actually create a safer, greener, more equitable city, if rolled out properly.”
Buffalo’s suburbs also hope to get in on smart technology as it evolves. The Niagara International Transportation Technology Coalition, a coalition of local transit agencies, plans to launch a study early this year to analyze congestion on major arterials and propose potential solutions. Those could include technological fixes, such as signals that prioritize certain types of vehicles or traffic-monitoring cameras like the six deployed on Brighton Road last year, NITTEC executive director Athena Hutchins said.
Those cameras, which monitor conditions and change lights to keep traffic flowing, cut travel time on Brighton Road by almost 30 seconds.
“So we’ve tried those in a little pilot area,” Hutchins said. “Now we’re asking, does it make sense to deploy [the technology] elsewhere?”
These are small steps, officials acknowledge — and the very notion of “smart cities” can sound fanciful. That’s particularly true in a region with both yawning digital access gaps and obvious constraints on public finances.
But Brown said “smart” technologies, such as the ones his administration proposes, have the potential to improve services for everyone.
“We will be integrating technology into our operations with a focus on delivering services more efficiently and cost effectively,” he said. “It will be about improving service-delivery to residents, visitors and businesses.”
Autor(en)/Author(s): Caitlin Dewey
Quelle/Source: The Buffalo News, 26.01.2020