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Smart + Connected City Initiative

Kansas City

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  • Fast Facts

    City :


    Wi-Fi Transmitters


    Digital Kiosks


    Smart Streetlights

    Region : North America

    National GDP Per Capita (USD) : 62,606 (IMF, 2018)

    City Population: 2.16 Million (Greater Metropolitan Area); 459,787

    Year Implemented : 2016

    National Gini Index : 41.5 (World Bank, 2016)


    Technologies Utilized : Wi-Fi, Kiosks, Smart LED lighting, Electrified streetcar, Sensors

    Funding Source : Public Private Partnership, Special & local taxes, Utility contributions, Federal grants

    Project Cost : $15.7 million for Wi-Fi/Kiosks and $102 million for KC Streetcar

    Project Savings :

    Planned Project Duration : Indefinite

    KPIs : Number of city blocks covered by Wi-Fi, Streetcar ridership and usage, Economic development in surrounding area

  • Project Context and Overview

    Kansas City is a growing city of close to 460,000 inhabitants with 2.16 million people living in its greater metropolitan area. Many citizens commute into the greater urban area from the suburbs daily, and the metropolitan area has more miles of highway per person than any other in the United States. Although the city boasts some of the quickest commute times among major US cities, leadership emphasizes the importance of innovation in transportation systems as a catalyst for a higher quality of life and economic development. Consequently, Kansas City applied to and was a finalist for the US Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge.

    The city has proceeded with its pre-existing Smart+Connected City project, which was included in the application. In May 2014, Kansas City signed a letter of intent with Cisco Systems to explore smart city initiatives, which in 2015 became an agreement with the company to collaborate on the Smart+Connected City framework to transform urban services. The city, benefitting from the infrastructure of the high speed Google Fiber network, was optimal for this platform which is organized around the 3.54 kilometer KC Streetcar line. The Streetcar was initiated around 2011 and is a typical electrified streetcar that serves ten stops downtown and is free for riders, with an aim to reduce traffic congestion and stimulate economic activity in its surrounding areas.

    Sprint Corporation provides free public Wi-Fi by means of 328 transmitters along the streetcar corridor (using Cisco hardware), while CityPost also installed 25 digital kiosks, which provide information about local amenities such as restaurants, cultural events, local businesses, and city services. Kiosks can link to apps to complete mobile transactions and can also be used in emergencies to notify nearby citizens of potential problems. Also, it allows corporate advertisers on the kiosks, often local and small enterprises, with an opportunity to create targeted and cost-effective advertising to users.

    In addition, Cisco installed 125 smart street lights equipped with Sensity sensors and integrated LED street lighting. The sensors on these lights collect data which will be applied to future smart city solutions. The smart streetlights utilize Wi-Fi for their connectivity.

    Additionally, the corridor serves as a living lab for IoT startups to deploy innovative solutions in an accelerated and efficient environment.

  • Project Planning and Implementation

    In total, the public-private project for Wi-Fi cost $15.7 million with Sprint providing $7 million, Cisco contributing $5 million, and the remaining $3.7 million covered by Kansas City. It should be noted that the KC Streetcar itself is calculated separately. The total cost was $102 and was mobilized from a mixture of special, local taxes, utility contributions, and federal grants.

    The implementation process was conducted as follows. A key aspect of the project in Kansas City was that, prior to installation of sensors and IoT devices to collect data, the city created a set of “Data Privacy Principles” to establish a scope for and govern the usage of personal data collected by such equipment.

    For the Streetcar, the plan was created by a project team, NextRail KC in five phases: kick-off, system overview, route screening, detailed route analysis, and the final plan. The methodology for the study drew not just from engineering and transit data but also relied heavily on community feedback as community engagement was a key tenet of the project. Routes and stops were selected and budget was estimated as well as funding sources and strategies were identified. With a mind to economic development, population and employment density were considered in order to best serve residents, particularly transit-dependent residents. Sensitivity to demographic changes and affordable housing was also a key consideration to ensure that future residents maintain social equity.

    For the public Wi-Fi and kiosks, the city worked with corporate partners to create systems architecture and standardization plans as well as site maps and installation schedules. Kiosks are situated in close proximity to Streetcar stops. Installation of the kiosks was rolled out in March 2016, prior to the city hosting a large-scale, intercollegiate basketball championship which drew many visitors to the city. By May 2016, the public Wi-Fi hubs and smart LED lights were running and the streetcar was operational.

    Expansion of the project is planned, and data is currently being utilized and fed into various existing programs related to transportation in the city, such as KCATA, KC Scout, and Operation Green Light. Such data is also playing a role in the creation of new solutions through the Kansas City Living Lab. Extension of the Streetcar into less-served areas of the city are planned and feasibility studies have been conducted on this. Currently these proposals are receiving feedback through community engagement.

  • Project Results

    The city has several direct indicators by which it can track the outputs of the project, as well as some less direct ones. For the free public Wi-Fi, they measure the number of city blocks covered by Wi-Fi. In the first month of the rollout, 100,000 unique customers utilized the Wi-Fi, and 50 square city blocks are currently covered by public Wi-Fi.

    The KC Streetcar carried a daily average of 5,644 daily passengers in 2017. A rider survey conducted August - October 2017 of over 1,500 riders revealed that 38% of riders use it to access their place of work, and 50% report that they are spending money in the areas which they access by the streetcar. From 2016 to 2017 the number of business licenses held in the postal codes served by the streetcar increased by 206% though there is no proof that this cannot be solely attributed to the introduction of the streetcar.

  • Recommendations for Transfer

    A reliable, high speed network is important, particularly if the IoT network operates via Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is the sensor network choice of Cisco, but other companies like Philips Lighting utilize cellular networks. The type of data being transmitted and whether it is being processed at the “edge” or processed elsewhere should also be a consideration. Each city should carefully map its future aspirations in terms of IoT in order to best evaluate which manner of network fits best with their smart city vision. This sort of project also dovetails very well with city visions that focus on digital equity, as it brings wireless internet to public spaces, particularly in areas targeted for economic revitalization.

    Kansas City was the first US city to receive the high-speed Google Fiber network which was a great asset to this project. Kansas City benefited from very well-established public-private partners, many of which see the city as an attractive place to invest, in part because of the infrastructure in place. While something like Google Fiber is not essential, cities with the image of a strong investment destination can clearly do better with such a project.

    Organizing the public Wi-Fi and kiosks around the newly-commissioned and free-to-ride KC Streetcar created some momentum to increase their usage. Cities wishing to implement such a program would benefit by strategically choosing a location in the city which will generate maximum traffic and perhaps to roll it out around a large-scale event which can generate buzz.

    While data privacy philosophies and public perception vary by context in different cultures and cities, Kansas City’s establishment of Data Privacy Principles is highly recommended for cities which do not already have such protocols in place. Publication of such principles is a key demonstration of the city’s commitment to transparency and ultimately is a factor in acceptance of such data collection by citizens. Furthermore, it helps to streamline the process and reduce risk for businesses who will later use this data as part of the living lab/ open innovation component of the project.

  • Figures and Images

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