How Smart Mobility Is Revolutionizing Urban Transportation

Urban transportation is evolving rapidly – Take a look at a few U.S. cities with initiatives for smarter mobility!

February 15, 2024

As more cities begin to implement smart technology to improve public infrastructure, foster economic growth, and augment the quality of life for their residents, urban transportation is evolving at a rapid pace. Let’s take a look at how various smart cities in the United States are enacting smart mobility efforts to help people get around more efficiently, sustainably, and safely. 

What is smart mobility? 

The term “smart mobility” refers to the use of various forms of transportation — including public transportation, ride-sharing, walking, biking, and more — to decrease traffic congestion, wasted time, pollution, accidents, fatalities, and other negative effects of urban transportation (Geotab, 2018b). Many smart mobility efforts aim to improve public transportation systems and reduce ownership of personal gas-powered vehicles, which emit harmful greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide, as well as other pollutants (Geotab, 2018b; Washington State Department of Ecology, n.d.). Overall, smart mobility reinvents the way we think about getting around to address pressing urban challenges like traffic safety and sustainability. 

One of the biggest urban transportation challenges facing major cities is traffic congestion. While some forms of traffic congestion are temporary, such as vehicle collisions and inclement weather, others are more enduring, such as overcapacity during rush hour. There are four main factors affecting traffic congestion: the environment, mechanical failings, insufficient infrastructure, and human error such as drunk or distracted driving. Although environmental factors may be out of our control, smart mobility technology can be used to mitigate the remaining elements, resulting in less traffic congestion, and therefore, fewer accidents (Geotab, 2018a). 

Many U.S. cities have been recognized for their smart mobility efforts, including Austin, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; San Francisco, California; Boston, Massachusetts; New York, New York; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Washington, D.C. These initiatives range from smart traffic lights powered by artificial intelligence (AI) technology, to sustainably fueled public transportation systems, and autonomous ride-sharing vehicles, all of which are intended to address transportation deficiencies and improve traffic flow (Locke, 2022). 

Exploring Urban Transportation Initiatives 

Municipalities all across the U.S. are implementing urban transportation initiatives to improve the lives of their citizens. Let’s investigate the various smart mobility projects being carried out right now to learn more about how these efforts are transforming city living. 

  • Autonomous Vehicles 

After the successful completion of safety course tests with simulated obstacles, Perrone Robotics’s 14-passenger autonomous shuttle van underwent its first demonstration on public roads at Newark Liberty International Airport in 2023. This project — headed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in conjunction with the New Jersey Vehicle Commission, the New Jersey Department of Transportation, and the New Jersey Governor’s Office — is only one of several different autonomous vehicle initiatives carried out through the Port Authority’s Innovation Hub. Other projects involved the use of autonomous platooned vehicles; testing of this technology was done at John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2022 and 2023. Through the use of this autonomous vehicle technology, the Port Authority hopes to increase the “efficiency, reliability, and safety” of public transportation in New York and New Jersey. 

CEO of Perrone Robotics, Paul Perrone, said of the autonomous shuttle pilot project, “This FMVSS-compliant, zero-emissions all-electric mini-bus has been designed to operate autonomously at posted roadway speeds, offering a sustainable and efficient solution for the future of mobility. This is just the beginning, and we’re excited about the potential this holds for reshaping the transportation landscape,” (Perrone Robotics, 2023). 

  • Sustainably Powered Electric Vehicles

In November 2022, the Great Plains Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota launched its Electric Vehicle (EV) Smart Cities program, which aims to provide Minnesota municipalities with resources for achieving EV readiness. The program is designed to help cities in the Greater Minnesota and Twin Cities metro regions meet their EV goals through counsel on how to secure funding for EV projects, facilitation of partnerships with local car dealerships and electric utility organizations, and technical assistance such as arranging educational community events and preparing EV ordinances. 

Due to high interest in the program, the Great Plains Institute divided the cohort into two tracks, each of which offers a different degree of technical assistance based on the cities’ respective levels of EV readiness. The full program offers access to monthly webinars, guidance through self-directed work, and one-on-one technical assistance, making it better suited for communities in the early stages of their EV-preparedness journey.

The EV Smart Cities program’s first cohort includes the municipalities of Grand Rapids, Breckenridge, Winona, Dilworth, Mountain Iron, Cottage Grove, and many others. Throughout the program’s duration, each city is expected to work toward a variety of EV readiness actions, which could include building EV charging stations, providing access to information about EVs on their website, and making electric scooters and bikes available for community use. Upon the conclusion of the program in March 2024, the Great Plains Institute will grant the first cohort of participating cities a certification, recognizing them for their efforts to increase EV preparedness (Nakpil & McKeown, 2023).

  • Smart Traffic Lights

In 2012, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania implemented the Scalable Urban Traffic Control (SURTRAC) system. Through the use of cameras and radars, the SURTRAC system assesses traffic volume in real time to predict how traffic will flow and decide when traffic lights should change to red or green. This data is then communicated to neighboring traffic lights to optimize the flow rate of traffic and decrease travel times. 

Traditional traffic signaling systems operate on timing plans based on the average traffic volume anticipated at a particular time of day. However, these systems are outdated and inefficient, as explained by the director of the Intelligent Coordination and Logistics Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University, Professor Stephen Smith, who led the development of the SURTRAC system: “These plans start to age as soon as you install them. Traffic patterns evolve over time, particularly where you have development.”

In contrast to these traditional signaling systems, the SURTRAC system has already proven its effectiveness in reducing traffic congestion. Within five years of the program’s initiation, intersection wait times decreased by as much as 40 percent, and car emissions were reduced by up to 20 percent, making this program beneficial to the environment as well (Apolitical, 2017). 

  • Connected Vehicle Technology 

In the Las Vegas strip, connected vehicle (CV) technology is used to share real-time information about traffic safety with autonomous vehicles and emergency response teams. Cameras and sensors installed on top of traffic and street lights collect data about traffic flow, alerting autonomous vehicles to road hazards such as approaching emergency vehicles. Additionally, these sensors can be used to change traffic signals in favor of emergency response vehicles, allowing for swifter emergency response times. 

Chief Innovation and Technology Officer for the City of Las Vegas, Michael Sherwood, explained the city’s motivation for implementing more smart city technology, saying, “Being able to improve outcomes for the community was our key driving factor. Technology can and is a game changer, allowing us to do more with less.” The connectivity CV technology provides is indeed expected to improve traffic safety. 

Las Vegas already uses these sensors to spot wrong-way drivers in the downtown area. Collecting data on wrong-way drivers increases driver and pedestrian safety by providing information on traffic management that may help determine ways to avoid future accidents. Moving forward, Las Vegas plans to continue advancing community safety measures by using smart tools like CV technology to solve other urban challenges (Zukowski, 2023a). 

  • Eco-Friendly Ride-Sharing

In April 2023, ride-sharing company Lyft expanded its “Green” mode, an option that enables users to request an electric or hybrid vehicle. The program was launched in 14 new cities across the U.S., including New York, New York; Phoenix, Arizona; Denver, Colorado; Austin, Texas; Washington, D.C.; Boston, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois; and Seattle, Washington, as well as six regions in California: San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, Orange County, Los Angeles, and Silicon Valley. 

Director of Sustainability at Lyft, Paul Augustine, explained, “By rolling out ‘Green’ across the country, we can nudge riders to take more sustainable forms of travel, helping us reach our shared climate goals sooner and ultimately reducing our carbon footprint faster.” This effort — which marks a step towards Lyft’s goal of 100 percent zero-emission rides in the U.S. and Canada by 2030 — is helping to make U.S. cities greener and more sustainable while simultaneously advancing urban transportation options (Zukowski, 2023b). 

Although they’re already transforming city life in unimaginable ways, these urban transportation initiatives only scratch the surface of what smart technology can make possible. In the coming years, we expect to see even bigger strides made toward creating cities that are more economically stable, efficient, and environmentally conscious, as well as safer for their citizens. 


Smart City Works is a non-profit focused on solving urban challenges through technology and innovation that fosters greater economic development. We harness the power of digital technology to create smart, sustainable, and resilient communities. 

Contact us today to learn more about how Smart City Works can help you innovate your organization, business, or community. 

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Cities Across Minnesota Are Becoming EV Smart

EV Smart Cities Program

Las Vegas invests in connected vehicle technology (a)

Lyft expands electric-vehicle option to riders in 14 cities and counties (b)

Perrone Robotics Deploys New Jersey’s First Public Road Autonomous Shuttle

Pittsburgh cuts travel time by 25% with smart traffic lights

Reducing car pollution

Top 12 Smart Cities in the U.S. - Smart Cities Examples

What Causes Traffic Congestion? (a)

What Is Smart Mobility? (b)

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