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Questions and Answers for the Beyond Traffic Smart City Challenge

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1. What is the USDOT’s Smart City Challenge? 

The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) wants to show what is possible when emerging data and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) technologies and applications are integrated with existing systems in a city to improve safety, enhance mobility, and address climate change. As the private sector continues to innovate at a rapid pace, the USDOT needs to reposition itself as a leader on how to integrate these transportation technologies into cities. The Secretary believes the Department can lead this effort by focusing resources on a single medium-sized city to see what is possible. The USDOT intends to commit up to $40 million in ITS research funding to accelerate this process.

2. What is the purpose of the Smart City Challenge?

The vision of the Smart City Challenge is to demonstrate and evaluate a holistic, integrated approach to improving surface transportation performance within a city and integrate this approach with other smart city domains such as public safety, public services, and energy. The USDOT is encouraging cities to put forward their best and most creative ideas for innovatively addressing the challenges they are facing. The USDOT will commit significant financial resources for one mid-sized city that can demonstrate how advanced data and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) technologies and applications can be used to reduce congestion, keep travelers safe, protect the environment, respond to climate change, connect underserved communities, and support economic vitality. Under this first solicitation, the USDOT is requesting applications for assistance to result in awards to selected “Smart City Finalists.” The USDOT estimates selection of five Finalists to receive fixed priced cooperative agreement awards of Federal funding in the amount of $100,000 each. Under the second follow-on solicitation, the USDOT intends to solicit applications for assistance to result in one award of up to $40 Million to provide funding support for the implementation of a Smart City Demonstration.

3. What are the goals of the Smart City Challenge? 

The USDOT’s vision for the Smart City Challenge is to identify where advanced technologies are integrated into the aspects of a city and play a critical role in helping cities and their citizens address challenges in safety, mobility, sustainability, economic vitality, and address climate change. Specific goals of the Smart City Challenge include:

  • Identify the transportation challenges and needs of the citizen and business community and demonstrate how advanced technologies can be used to address issues in safety, mobility, and climate change, now and into the future.
  • Determine which technologies, strategies, applications, and institutional arrangements demonstrate the most potential to address and mitigate, if not solve, transportation challenges identified within a city.
  • Support and encourage cities to take the evolutionary and revolutionary steps to integrate advanced technologies – including connected and automated vehicle technologies – into the management and operations of the city, consistent with the USDOT vision elements.
  • Demonstrate, quantify, and evaluate the impact of these advanced technologies, strategies, and applications towards improved safety, efficiency, and sustainable movement of people and goods.
  • Examine the technical, policy, and institutional mechanisms needed for realizing the potential of these strategies and applications – including identifying technical and policy gaps and issues – and work with partners to address them.
  • Assess reproducibility and qualify successful smart city systems and services for technology and knowledge transfer to other cities facing similar challenges.

4. What challenges were identified in Beyond Traffic 2045 that has the USDOT focused on medium sized cities?

In February of 2015, the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) released “Beyond Traffic 2045: Trends and Choices”. Beyond Traffic examines the long-term and emerging trends affecting our Nation’s transportation system and the implications of those trends. It describes how demographic and economic trends, as well as changes in technology, governance, and our climate are affecting how people and goods travel today, and how they could affect travel in the future. Examples of these trends are summarized below:

  • How will we move? America’s population is expected to grow by 70 million by 2045 – that’s more than the current populations of New York, Texas, and Florida combined. As our nation grows, so does its demand for travel. Research indicates that on average, Americans spend over 40 hours a year stuck in traffic. Congestion is crippling our cities and impacting the quality of life of citizens. By 2050, emerging mega regions could absorb 75 percent of the U.S. population. Much of this growth will occur in medium-sized cities and existing infrastructure (including our roads) will not be able to accommodate it.
  • How will we move things? America’s multimodal freight system is extremely efficient, moving approximately 63 tons of goods per American each year. The movement of goods is critical to the economic vitality of a city. As such, we need to continue effectively moving goods, including food, energy, and manufactured goods into our cities. Growth in overall freight demand will put increased pressure on freight bottlenecks – across all modes – throughout the country. Estimates show that by 2040, nearly 30,000 miles of our busiest highways will be clogged on a daily basis. Truck congestion will waste $27 billion in time and fuel economy annually.
  • How will we move better? More and more the transportation sector is relying on data to drive decisions, and on technology to reimagine how we move people and goods. The information that agencies and companies need to make decisions has never been easier to acquire, understand, and use. Emerging data sources and tools – including smart phones, connected and automated vehicles, and the sharing economy – have the potential to improve how cities agencies make investment and operational decisions, and engage the public.
  • How will we adapt? Our climate is changing, producing harsher storms and higher average temperatures. Severe weather events are occurring more frequently and are more damaging. Investments need to be made to make our transportation system more resilient. Scientific consensus is that these changes are largely the result of human activities emitting carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. In 2012, transportation sources directly accounted for 28 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. Next to the generation of electricity, the transportation sector is the second largest source in the United States.

While cities of all sizes will be impacted by these trends, the USDOT sees potential to implement advanced technologies in medium-sized cities. Many of these cities include the newest and fastest-growing urban areas in the country that will soon be facing many of the challenges that our largest cities face. Opportunities exist for these cities to address challenges now, before conditions get worse. Medium cities typically have existing infrastructure in place to support advanced technologies, but at the same time may have less expertise, or fewer resources, to bring to bear on the challenges they face. They may be more dependent on partnerships, or novel institutional arrangements, to achieve results.

5. In the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), the USDOT identified twelve (12) vision elements. How would the USDOT prioritize these vision elements?

The USDOT is encouraging Applicants to consider all twelve vision elements in developing ideas for developing their city’s vision for a Smart City. While all vision elements are a priority, the USDOT identified technology vision elements as the ‘highest priority’ – specifically urban automation; connected vehicles; and intelligent, sensor-based infrastructure. Elements that support innovative approaches to urban transportation are seen as ‘high priority’ and underlying smart city elements are categorized as a ‘priority’.

DOT's 12 Priority of Vision Elements

Vision Element


Technology Elements

Vision Element #1: Urban Automation

Highest Priority

Vision Element #2: Connected Vehicles

Highest Priority

Vision Element #3: Intelligent, Sensor-Based Infrastructure

Highest Priority

Innovative Approaches to Urban Transportation Elements

Vision Element #4: Urban Analytics

High Priority

Vision Element #5: User-Focused Mobility Services and Choices

High Priority

Vision Element #6: Urban Delivery and Logistics

High Priority

Vision Element #7: Strategic Business Models and Partnering Opportunities

High Priority

Vision Element #8: Smart Grid, Roadway Electrification, and Electric Vehicles

High Priority

Vision Element #9: Connected, Involved Citizens

High Priority

Underlying Smart City Elements

Vision Element #10: Architecture and Standards


Vision Element #11: Low-Cost, Efficient, Secure, and Resilient Information and Communications Technology


Vision Element #12: Smart Land Use



6. What role do Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) play in a smart city?

As our society becomes more connected in general, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) and transportation will play an ever-more important and central role in our cities. The transportation system as a whole can best serve vital needs and challenges cities face when it is using technology to its fullest potential and enabling transportation system managers to effectively “connect the dots” of information from various factors that affect transportation operations. With ITS laying the groundwork for innovative transportation solutions, many cities are currently serving as laboratories for new types of transportation services. Smart cities are emerging as a next-generation approach for city management, taking the steps forward along the transportation technology continuum. Integrating ITS, connected vehicle technologies, automated vehicles, and other advanced technologies – along with new mobility concepts that leverage the sharing economy – within the context of a city provides the enhance travel experiences and make moving people and goods safer, more efficient, and more secure.

7. How do connected vehicles tie into a smart city?

Connected vehicles use vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications to provide connectivity that will enable countless safety, mobility, and environmental applications. Connected vehicle technologies allow vehicles to send and receive information about their movements in the network – offering cities unprecedented opportunities to provide more responsive and efficient mobility solutions in real-time and in the long term. Data derived from connected vehicles provide insights to transportation operators helping to understand demand and assist in predicting and responding to movements around a city. In deploying connected vehicle and infrastructure services, Smart Cities Demonstrations may seek to integrate a variety of commercially available communication technologies including Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC), cellular, satellite, Wi-Fi and others.

8. How does the sharing economy benefit from a smart city?

Advanced technology and services deployed throughout a city, will allow people to adopt “car-free” and “car-light” lifestyles with dramatically less driving. For people to be willing to share assets there must be a seamless, low-friction way to do so. Through the Smart City Challenge, the USDOT seeks to advance strategies, initiatives, and services that increase transportation choices and options by supporting and improving mobility for all travelers, including aging Americans and persons with disabilities. These strategies would deliver innovative solutions across all transportation modes, including transit, bicycling, electric vehicles, and shared use mobility services, to improve the mobility of all travelers. Mobility on Demand (MOD) is an emerging concept built on shared use approaches and a shift in mass transit. It augments public transportation and supports the efficient movement of people. From the user’s perspective, travel choices are simplified through open data and communications technology that provides personalized information – including traveler information, travel options, and integrated mobile payment – directly to the user.

9. What role will open data and data sharing play in a smart city?

Open data and data sharing enable the efficient coordination, use, and management of all mobility services in the transportation system. By managing their data as a strategic asset and making open, machine-readable data available to the public – subject to applicable privacy, security and other safeguards – cities allow for the necessary policy infrastructure to fuel entrepreneurship and innovation to improve citizens’ lives, create jobs, and spur economic development. Open data and data sharing practices allow cities to make data easily available to entrepreneurs, innovators, researchers, and others who can use those data to generate new products and services, build businesses, and create jobs.

10. What tools are available to assist applicants in creating architectures that consider intelligent transportation systems (ITS), connected vehicles, and interfaces with other sectors in a smart city?   

Interoperable regional ITS architectures that can be extended to a nationwide or broader deployment based on accessible, well-defined standards is needed for consistent implementations that will lead to the required uniformly accessible operation. The National ITS Architecture ( is a mature architecture that provides a common framework for the ITS community to plan, define, and integrate ITS solutions. The Connected Vehicle Reference Implementation Architecture (CVRIA) ( was developed to extend the National Architecture to include detailed information to support development of fully interoperable regional connected vehicle architectures. The CVRIA and the associated SET-IT software tool will be fully integrated into the National ITS Architecture and software toolset to support development of interoperable regional architectures including complete ITS infrastructure and connected vehicle capabilities along with interface information needed for standards selection. To the extent viable, the USDOT envisions that smart city demonstration sites will define and demonstrate integration of ITS systems with other systems which comprise a smart city. As part of this effort, the nature of required interfaces to other systems should be defined to utilize existing networking or other standards when available.

11. What are the requirements for incorporating security into the Smart City Demonstration?

To support the overall security and privacy of participants in this Challenge, the USDOT is developing a prototype security credential management system (SCMS) which will be available for use in DSRC-based communications. The SCMS will provide digitally signed certificates that can be used to ensure trusted DSRC communications between connected vehicle devices, roadside devices and the SCMS. The USDOT will provide technical support for interfacing with the prototype SCMS, as well as tools intended to support the Smart City. Physical security of the deployed devices and security for non-DSRC communications are not covered by the SCMS and should be addressed through other means in the demonstration. Rigorous, proven processes are needed to ensure that security mechanisms are embedded in systems and infrastructure to protect against attacks. Secure solutions must be integrated into architecture designs and security risks must be continually managed. Challenge sites are expected to use industry best practices as they relate to objects and interfaces used in their installations.

12. What might the winning city look like after the Smart City Demonstration has concluded?

Given the nature of the Smart City Challenge, the USDOT will rely on the applicants/cities to present what a smart city means to them by demonstrating through their proposals how they can be a safer, more efficient, and sustainable city. The USDOT is encouraging cities to put forward their best and most creative ideas for innovatively addressing the challenges they are facing. The Smart City Challenge provides an opportunity for the city to determine what is possible by using advanced technologies to address their city’s challenges.  The USDOT expects applicants/cities to and relies on their creativity, strategic planning, and knowledge of their cities challenges to identify a holistic, integrated vision that is best for their residents. The USDOT does expect the Smart City Demonstration to include connected vehicle technologies as a cornerstone of the implementation. Additionally, the USDOT defined twelve vision elements in Section A of the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO). For each vision element, applicants/cities should describe their approach including the technology solutions proposed. Cities are not required to address all vision elements, but they should illustrate how the proposed technology solutions can synergistically combine to create measurable impact while reducing costs associated with both deployment and operations.

13. What are some of the cities that would qualify as a mid-sized city?  

The ideal Smart City Demonstration site would be an innovative mid-sized city that views technology as the next logical step toward addressing the city’s challenges. This mid-size city would have a population between approximately 200,000 and 850,000 people within the city (Census-designated place) limits; a dense urban population; an environment conducive to demonstrating advanced technologies; an existing public transportation system; commitment to integrating transportation services with the sharing economy; and commitment to making data open, discoverable, and usable by the public to fuel entrepreneurship and innovation. The city would be a significant regional population center, and its population would represent a significant portion (more than 15%) of the total population of its metropolitan urbanized area. The ideal Smart City Demonstration site would have continuity of committed leadership and capacity to carry out the demonstration throughout the period of performance. A successful demonstration would also align with the USDOT’s vision elements as defined in this funding opportunity. 

14. Will the USDOT release a list of cities that have applied following the February 4, 2016 deadline?  

The USDOT does not plan to release the list of applicants/cities that applied to the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO).

15. What is a fixed priced cooperative agreement? Will finalist cities who do not meet set benchmarks have to repay funds back to DOT?

Per 2 CFR §200.45, fixed amount awards means a type of grant agreement under which the Federal awarding agency or pass-through entity provides a specific level of support without regard to actual costs incurred under the Federal award. This type of Federal award reduces some of the administrative burden and record-keeping requirements for both the non-Federal entity and Federal awarding agency or pass-through entity. Accountability is based primarily on performance and results. Payments are based on meeting specific requirements of the Federal award. Accountability is based on performance and results. Except in the case of termination before completion of the Federal award, there is no governmental review of the actual costs incurred by the non-Federal entity in performance of the award. Finalists will not need to repay the funding.

16. Each of the estimated 5 finalists will receive a $100K grant for concept development, but in the end only one city will be awarded the $40 million grant. Does the Department not consider that to essentially be $400K is wasteful government spending? Or will the other cities be required to pay back that $100K to DOT and taxpayers?

The cities that are not selected, will have the funding to further their planning for the transition to a smart city. The USDOT believes that by engaging in the process, these cities will have accelerated their planning for the transition to a smart city and thus the funding will be wisely spent. Finalists will only receive the full $100K if they submit all deliverables defined in the agreement.

17. It’s not clear, but is each of the estimated 5 finalists required to submit an application for the $40 million grant? The current wording indicates the USDOT will “solicit applications from finalists”, but does not indicate if it is required for each finalist to submit an application for final $40 million award? 

Competition for the $40 million award will be limited to the finalists. The finalists will be required to submit a detailed technical and budget application for the $40 million award.

18. Can you explain more of the process for determining which cities will become finalists and ultimately the final awardee? Who will be charged with reviewing applications and determining which applicants have the “best and most creative ideas” to receive this funding?

Section E of the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) provides information on the selection process.

First a team of experts from across the USDOT will review the applications received against the technical merit criteria defined in the NOFO. The team will document the strengths, weaknesses and risks of each proposal and provide a rating of recommended and not recommended. The expert team will present the information to the executive review board, consisting of leadership from the modal administrations involved in the program. The executive review board will then forward the recommended and not recommended list of applicants to the Secretary. The Secretary will then make the final selections. A similar process for selecting the final Smart City Demonstration site will be used.

19. The Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) indicates that funds are not presently available for the $40 Million finalist award and is dependent upon appropriated funds. When does DOT expect this funding to be available?

The USDOT has funding available for the five Concept Development Awards. Funds are not presently available for the full Smart City Challenge Finalist Award. The Government’s obligation under the awards is contingent upon the availability of appropriated funds from which payment for agreement purposes can be made. No legal liability on the part of the Government for any payment may arise until funds are made available by the Agreement Officer for this award and until the awardee receives notice of such availability, to be confirmed in writing by the Agreement Officer.

Estimated funding by year is:

FY 16:             $15 Million (available)

FY 17:             $15 Million

FY 18:             $10 Million

Total               $40 Million

20. How is population calculated? How is density calculated? What if my city does not fall within the stated guidelines?

The USDOT invites and encourages all eligible applicants to submit bold and innovative applications. Eligible applicants include State and local governments, tribal governments, transit agencies and authorities, public toll authorities, metropolitan planning organizations, other subdivisions of a State or local government.

The USDOT has identified Desired Characteristics of the Smart City awardee. The Desired Characteristics include: (1) a population between approximately 200,000 and 850,000 people within the city (Census-designated place) limits using 2010 Census data; and (2) and a population density that  includes a significant share (greater than 15%) of the overall population of its urbanized area using 2010 Census data.

These Desired Characteristics are not firm eligibility requirements. Rather, they serve to communicate the USDOT’s ideal attributes for the demonstration. The USDOT will evaluate the technical merit of each application as a whole, including the degree that a city aligns with the USDOT’s desired characteristics. The NOFO includes the complete list of technical merit evaluation criteria.

Applicants that fall outside the population and density guidelines are welcome to apply, but should be aware that USDOT anticipates significant competition. When making the business decision to apply or not, applicants should consider the technical merit evaluation criteria as a whole. Shortcomings in one area will likely require significantly increased merit in another area to remain competitive.

To assist potential applicants, USDOT has posted a list of cities that meet the population and density guidelines here.

Information about Census urbanized areas can be found at: