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Georgia’s “Smart Cities” on the Rise

February 9, 2016

Donalsonville, known as a quiet, friendly, rural southern city with an agriculture economy and great fishing at Lake Seminole, is building its way to the top of connected cities in the U.S.
 
Connected cities are converging digital technologies such as transmitters, sensors and smart phone apps to create a network to form what is considered a “Smart City” or “Smart Rural City.” Donalsonville city leaders have partnered with SoZo Solutions to make this technological advancement possible.
 
“One of the most exciting aspects of being a Connected or Smart City is the ubiquitous broadband available for the ever-growing bandwidth-hungry public,” said SoZo Solution COO Ken Tuck. “This emerging and evolving technology helps bring more efficiency and functionality to our lives. It helps emergency services respond quicker, better monitor energy consumption, and brings education opportunities to people who otherwise wouldn’t have access.”
 
According to Donalsonville Mayor Dan Ponder, a Smart Rural City, which Donalsonville is transitioning into, does not face issues such as traffic, pollution and high-crime rates like typical Smart Cities. Smart Rural Cities are more concerned with “smart farming” and distance learning to create more educational opportunities for residents and enhance healthcare.
 
Though the partnership and the technology’s implementation has just begun and it’s too early to gauge its full effect, Donalsonville is already experiencing one of the “Smart City” conveniences.
 
“Telepresence allows us to save on traveling expenses and shrinks the world for our rural city,” Ponder said.
 
In addition to giving Donalsonville residents a better way of life, Ponder believes this “smart” solution will grow the city’s economy.
 
“It (Smart City solution) will also give our city advantages when recruiting businesses,” he said. “One of our goals is to be a city where people want to live. There are large industries within 30 minutes of us, and we want their employees to live here and call Donalsonville home.”
 
Smart Signals Leading the Way
The city of Pooler recently installed new adaptive traffic control technology on Pooler Pkwy in an effort to improve traffic flow along the busy corridor. Rhythm Engineering VP of Sales and Marketing Jesse Manning compares the impact of adaptive traffic control to that of a 24/7 traffic officer.
 
InSync is the adaptive traffic control system created by Rhythm Engineering.
 
“As of November 2015, this technology has been installed in more than 2,330 intersections in approximately 31 states,” Manning explained. “Communities using InSync can save up to $8 million in wasted time and fuel.”
 
The 12 InSync intersections installed on Washington Road in Columbia County have reduced vehicle travel time by 895 hours per day, decreased daily fuel consumption by 671 gallons, and eliminated 75,362 stops per day—all for a total economic benefit of $6 million a year. According to Manning, specific corridor characteristics impact overall wait times, but drivers nationwide can see a 20-60 percent decrease in travel time. Pedestrians also experience better travel as they are not skipped over or underserved amidst the flow of traffic.
 
The congestion on Pooler Pkwy in Pooler occurs throughout the day due to more than 8,000 Gulfstream Aerospace employees along with airport, I-95 and mall traffic, said Pooler City Manager Robert Byrd. After a year and a half of planning the city’s InSync traffic control project by examining their traffic issues and the results of the adaptive technology used in other Georgia cities, as well as, Aiken and Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina Pooler decided to launch six traffic signals in June 2016. Five existing signals will be updated with the InSync technology and a brand new signal will be built.
 
Byrd and other city officials understand that smart signals won’t make congestion disappear.
 
“This technology will not ‘fix’ the traffic issues along Pooler Parkway,” Byrd said. “Our expectations are for the traffic flow to improve and for the wait times to decrease.” Byrd hopes to see a 20-30 percent reduction in travel/wait time.
 
Before deciding on adaptive traffic technology, which can present expensive up-front costs starting at a base investment of $25,000 per intersection, Manning encourages cities to review their potential return of investment and conduct a cost-benefit analysis.
 
While there is no set definition to a Smart City, there are several qualities that seem to set these cities out from the rest: their inclusive society; information and communications technology; embrace of creativity and new technology; eco-friendly initiatives, mixed-modal access; and entrepreneurship. These qualities work to assist Smart Cities in improving the efficiency of city operations, quality of life and growing the local economy.
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