Technology-driven success for a new urban environment

By Kris Michell | Downtown Partnership News

Cities around the country and the world are experimenting with new ways to use technology to create business opportunities and improve people’s lives. They’re finding solutions in transportation, health care, education, and many other areas of life.

San Diego is among those cities, and much of this work is happening Downtown.

I am proud to share that San Diego is the world’s first city to partner with GE Lighting on the “Intelligent Cities” pilot program. This software-defined lighting technology will help San Diego solve some of the city’s infrastructure challenges.

The Intelligent Cities technology uses enhanced sensors to advance lighting control for traffic and parking optimization and monitor and collect data from environmental patterns. These sensors give us information that will transform our urban environment for the future. The lighting solution is the result of a partnership between the city of San Diego and GE Lighting and it’s happening in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter.

EV shuttles 2webtop

Downtown has plans to launch electric vehicle shuttles as part of a “Circulator System” in 2016. (Courtesy San Diego Free Ride)

Consider this: Parking Downtown is no longer a challenge in the intelligent city of the future. GE LED streetlights have the ability to direct drivers to available spaces with the help of sensors. The same streetlight can give warnings in the event of a hurricane or other natural disaster. Sensors can also give emergency responders real-time views of an area as they are responding to 911 calls.

Last year, San Diego became the first U.S. city to widely use GE’s LED lighting fixtures with “LightGrid” outdoor wireless controls technology. Deployed on more than 3,000 city streetlights, this technology is saving the city more than $254,000 annually in energy and maintenance costs.

We are thrilled by the “Intelligent Cities” platform and continue to look for ways that innovation can improve the quality of life in the urban center.

On Sept. 18, 2015, the Partnership participated in “Park(ing) Day,” a global event to highlight the need for more urban open space by temporarily transforming parking spaces into creative mini-parks.

With the help of Home Depot, we overhauled three parking spaces into decorative parks filled with innovative seating made from repurposed wood. The parks celebrated drought-tolerant plants, games and music.

Up to 20 electric vehicles are expected to be part of the program. (Courtesy San Diego Free Ride)

Up to 20 electric vehicles are expected to be part of the program. (Courtesy San Diego Free Ride)

It was a great time for our Downtown San Diego community to reimagine how we use public space in the urban center. People were genuinely engaged, and hopefully by next year, there will be fewer parking spaces commandeered and more public space.

One other way in which we are using technology to improve quality of life for residents, visitors and workers is through the creation of a Downtown Circulator System.

As mentioned earlier in this column, addressing concerns about mobility and parking in Downtown goes beyond adding more spaces. It requires creative solutions that allow people to park once and move around the urban playground easily and often. The on-demand Downtown Circulator System gets residents, employees, tourists and local visitors where they need to go quickly, conveniently and for free.

Imagine catching a free ride to Petco for a baseball game or conventioneers using the service as their functional, go-to option to and from the Convention Center. Day or night, you’ll get from one corner of Downtown and back again with just a few prompts on your smartphone. Estimates suggest the program will service 3,000 riders a week with 20 vehicles.

The Downtown Circulator System isn’t just fun, free and convenient, it’s good business. The point-to-point service will create jobs, offset the need for increased parking, decrease traffic congestion and positively impact the environment. Further, it replaces a previous effort to establish a fixed-route shuttle, which would have been significantly more expensive to operate and less user-driven.

(Courtesy San Diego Free Ride)

(Courtesy San Diego Free Ride)

Pending approval by Civic of San Diego, 20 all-electric vehicles could start operating as soon as the beginning of 2016. On behalf of more than 300 businesses represented by the Downtown San Diego Partnership, and thousands of Downtown residents and visitors, we couldn’t be more excited to welcome the Circulator System to our streets.

These are just a few of the ways Downtown San Diego is playing its part in the technology revolution that’s making our world more efficient, sustainable and vibrant.

—Kris Michell is the president and CEO of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, a nonprofit, member-based organization that serves as the leading advocate for the revitalization and economic health of Downtown. Downtown San Diego Partnership oversees the Clean & Safe program. For questions or comments, email To learn more about the Downtown Partnership and Clean & Safe, please visit


  1. Benny Cartwright says:

    I saw these when they were being tested for one weekend in August in Hillcrest – and jumped on one. Was a great concept and they’ll take you anywhere in the area!

  2. Very cool! In 2016, San Diego residents should be able to cruise around in electric vehicles while enjoying high-speed Internet (Speeds greater than 1 gig!) courtesy of Webpass’s fiber deployment in the same area. And it looks like those electric cars provide some great advertising real estate for downtown businesses as well!

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