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Why smart street lights are part of Kansas City's urban transformation plan

Submitted by doug.peeples on May 13, 2016

We've said if often enough: smart street light networks are an ideal launch pad for smart cities. They're highly adaptable. They're scalable. They're energy efficient. And they can help cities do so much more than provide economical lighting because applications for smart transportation, environmental monitoring, city services management and others can be added to the network. While Kansas City leaders chose to start small, they're well aware of the benefits smart street lights will bring. — Doug Peeples

With help from partner companies, Kansas City recently announced it will install free public Wi-Fi in a 50-block section of downtown and it has already embarked on the first phase of an integrated city-wide transit system with its new KC Streetcar and other features. It also plans to add 125 smart street lights with more to come.

True, as a story in The Verge noted, the city is angling to increase its chances of winning a $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation that would go a long way toward supporting the city's smart transportation plans and its smart city urban transformation effort. Kansas City is one of seven in the final round of the DOT competition. Council Lead Partner Cisco and Associate Partner Black & Veatch worked with the city to develop the framework for its urban transformation program.

But it's much more than that
The city's primary reason for providing smart street lights and the other improvements is to meet the expectations of its citizens. "The smart city piece of this has been to augment that physical construction with the 21st century capabilities that our citizens not only expect from the commercial world but also from the city itself," said Bob Bennett, the city's chief innovation officer.

For the street light project the city selected lighting that has sensors that tell the lights to dim when no one is beneath them. The combination of LED lamps and the ability to dim can save a substantial amount of money on a city's energy bill. And the lighting system also includes sensors that recognize large groups of people, a feature that can help the city decide the best locations to direct resources, such as police personnel, or help businesses determine the best locations.

The city's Wi-Fi (with data aggregation and networking provided by Cisco) and smart street light strategy is part of a larger plan to install a rapid transit bus corridor and self-driving car lanes. Both the transit system and car lanes will likely be connected to the monitoring and other capabilities of the street lighting network.

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Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.