Smart City

Smart City – Building the Communities of Tomorrow

January 11, 2023
By John Bradford, Sr Project Manager, WSB

From electronically monitoring water pumps to installing GPS trackers on city snowplows, many cities are embracing technologies and tools to become a smart city. Communities across the country are advancing initiatives that make their cities more efficient, while protecting resources and public dollars. 

What opportunities are out there, and what does being a smart city mean? Let’s break it down. 

What Does It Mean to Be a Smart City? 

There is no one definition of smart city, but there are a few ways to approach the concept and adopt smart city initiatives that meet the needs of your community. 

The first is to consider policies and tools that benefit the public. How can smart cities improve health metrics, the way that residents interact with one another, or best utilize community resources? There are numerous technologies and innovative ideas that can improve the lives of citizens and benefit overall public wellbeing. 

The next area to think about is data systems, and how you can track information to improve the efficiency and life of equipment. Thorough asset management means understanding that infrastructure and equipment not only require preventative maintenance, but predictive management as well. New technologies can help cities understand when certain equipment needs to be repaired or adjusted, extending its life, and helping communities more effectively plan for capital improvements. Furthermore, for communities with sustainability plans, it’s important to understand how sustainability, asset management, and smart cities all connect. 

Next, when thinking about smart cities, it is critical to map how using technology can more effectively utilize resources. For example, many northern cities are installing GPS tracking devices on city snowplows and making traffic light modifications that allow the plows to make it through green lights instead of having to stop. This improves the efficiency of snow removal, better utilizes community resources, and positively benefits public safety by clearing roads more quickly and effectively. Another example is having occupancy sensors installed at community parks and playgrounds to track usage and the best allocation of resources. 

What it means to be a smart city can mean something different to each community, so it’s important to think about what works best for your community. 

What are the Biggest Opportunities and Challenges?

Smart cities are the future, and can help communities save money, direct resources more efficiently, and better connect and communicate with residents. The opportunities are endless, so communities need to look at places where they can find the greatest value and potential. 

But because there is no one definition of what a smart city means, many communities can feel pressure to do too much, or fail to see how the small technological investments and changes they are making fit into the big picture of a smart city. 

Furthermore, as every community faces limited budgets and funding priorities, understanding where smart city investments make the most sense and will have the biggest impact is key. Also looking at opportunities to expand funding resources is critical. WSB helps many communities with identifying and applying for grants. 

Where to Start?

Where do you start on the road to becoming a smart city? It’s important to think both big picture and in detail. 

Start by defining your goals. Is it improving the efficiency of public works? Is it better communication with residents and the public? And how do these goals tie into your city’s larger strategic plan? 

At WSB, we help communities navigate big ideas and in-depth planning. If you’re not sure where to start or have ideas, I encourage you to reach out for an exploration conversation. There are so many amazing new tools, technologies, and opportunities out there – and smart cities can help build a better future for all of us. Look to us this year to continue to share articles on the ways that technology can help improve your community.

John has worked in the private and public sectors for 29 years and has worked with the cities of Hopkins, Woodbury and Bloomington. His experience includes policy development, capital improvement planning, infrastructure planning, comprehensive planning, site master planning, facility expansion projects, and interagency partnership agreements, labor contract negotiations, and culture change management.

jbradford@wsbeng.com | 952.210.8280

3D design

Our Approach to Digital Delivery

Introducing Digital Plus

The future of project delivery

Beyond paperless

For many years, the AEC industry has been embracing advancements in the way we deliver projects.  Paperless plans were the first step in this process. Fast forwarding to today, paperless plans have evolved one step further. People often refer to any digital plan set as paperless, but at WSB, we take our designs one step beyond paperless by creating 100% models. 100% models mean the entire project is created and designed in 3D.

100% models house data and design information from the entire project lifecycle, leaving owners and contractors with an accurate, detailed, data-based model to support asset management needs well into the future.

The development of DigitalPlus

WSB is committed to leading our industry in the use of cutting-edge tools to work smarter.  As a firm, we’ve been at the leading edge of digital delivery efforts for many years.  Our approach is unique and one that has been internationally recognized as a best practice in digital project delivery.  To help tell this story, we created DigitalPlus. 

DigitalPlus is the future of digital delivery. Through a combination of cutting-edge tools, expertise and a commitment to innovation, we are shaping the way our industry delivers projects. We believe in advanced project delivery, and we know how to apply the right technology and expertise to support our infrastructure needs. Through DigitalPlus, we are setting new standards, developing best practices and changing our industry’s approach to multidimensional digital design.

Why DigitalPlus

As engineers, we are motivated by the opportunities to design infrastructure projects that support our communities. The infrastructure around us has a significant impact on our daily lives. From drafting plan sets to public meetings, we live in the details and embrace the full process.  We also embrace the advancements in our industry and how we can leverage technology to deliver better projects for our clients.


The benefits

  • Improve Quality
  • Sustainability
  • Enhanced Scheduling
  • Better Managed Risk
  • Relationship Management (Contractors | Owners)
  • Improve Cost
  • Increase Collaboration and Communication

What is DigitalPlus

A combination of expertise and cutting-edge tools.

Data Collection

Data is the foundation of any good project. We use several traditional data collection methods to gather data points that help paint a picture of the world around us. Good data is vital to the DigitalPlus process.

3D Design

Designing in 3D allows us to develop the project while providing a complete and accurate picture of the final product, significantly improving project outcomes.

4D / 5D

4D/5D modeling improves accuracy and efficiency by adding time and cost functions into design. The true power lies in the way a model can be used during preliminary design, final design and throughout construction.

Asset Management

Asset Management is the collection of an agency’s infrastructure assets and includes a plan for managing assets over the infrastructure’s lifespan. Through digital twins, assets can be managed virtually and accurately.

Utility Coordination

Digital delivery aids utility coordination by translating utility information into a 3D environment that can be compared with the design to identity and mitigate conflicts.

Visualization

Real-time 3D visualization has completely transformed site-specific review and public engagement efforts. Visualizations allow for active participation regardless of project scope and size.

Traffic Operations

Through simulation technology and trip-origin destination data, roadway designs are now guided by real-time and historical mobility movement data.

Integrated Project Delivery

A process, rather than a project that all starts with an idea. Through a combination of expertise and cutting-edge tools, land developers and owners identify opportunities and challenges before a project begins.

Machine Control Modeling

Using 3D models and GPS data, machine control modeling allows earthwork machinery to be accurately positioned. Design surfaces, grades and alignments are directly imported into construction equipment, resulting in increased accuracy and timelines.


To learn more, visit: www.wsbdigitalplus.com

Using ipad

Q&A with Bret Weiss | Planting a flag

Five years ago, Bret Weiss, WSB’s President & CEO, walked into an all-staff meeting and said, “Beginning now, we are a technology firm.” Today, this statement rings true. WSB is still a design and consulting firm dedicated to building the places, spaces and systems that support our lives, but in everything we do, we look through a technology lens.   

In this Q&A, Weiss discusses WSB’s commitment to innovation and why he embraced disruption early on.

Why technology?

In many industries, technology has drastically impacted processes, deliverables and has had significant impacts on cost, quality and speed to market.  The AEC space is no different.  There are both tangible and intangible benefits to use new tools and technology that produce real results and help us meet our client demands. Many in our industry are comfortable with how we have always done it and I saw software solutions as an opportunity to differentiate our firm.  We have always tried to think like successful businesses outside our industry and want to be on the leading edge. Our commitment to advanced technology and project delivery will continue to further set us apart. There are countless internal staff and external client benefits that come from driving technological advancement for the industry.  We felt like a strong base in technology was the perfect place to position WSB.

“Beginning now, we are a technology firm.”

Bret Weiss
What type of reaction did you get from staff after you stated that WSB was a technology firm?

There were varied responses – some confusion, a lot of excitement and many questions. Obviously, we’re still a design and consulting firm, but it’s the way we deliver our projects that’s different and creating real impact.  We wanted to drive that home for staff.  The use, development and adoption of technology is a priority for our firm. Change can be hard for any industry.  A bold introduction was necessary.  Like with any change, there was some hesitancy in adjusting what’s already working, but the benefits speak for themselves, and it’s been something staff and clients have grown increasingly excited about.

You’ve been vocal about the importance of embracing change. How do you know when a change is the right one?

There is always a certain amount of risk associated with change and we are constantly evaluating any potential risk to our company, staff, and clients.  With any change, you will encounter resistance and may experience a slow transition, but that’s where we weigh the benefits of change.  Our culture is built on curiosity and experimentation with new ideas but is balanced with a swift evaluation of what has potential and what won’t meet our expectations.

My goal is to lead WSB to deliver better projects for our clients and the communities we serve. Any change that supports these efforts is something we’re willing to explore. We have a strong leadership team that is committed to new solutions, and we are committed to developing partnerships to help us on this journey.

We want to help build better infrastructure through streamlined approaches that are mutually beneficial for all parties. Whether it’s safer infrastructure, working conditions or cost savings and better schedules, the benefits must outweigh the risk.  We constantly review how technology could advance WSB and our deliverables, which is well worth the risk and has allowed us to grow in new areas of our industry.

When did you know WSB’s commitment to technology was going to be successful?

Our staff have always embraced curiosity and our business has been built on thinking differently.  There were a lot of milestones that helped build our momentum.  We hired new staff to grow our expertise, we collaborated with strategic partners, and we worked closely with clients who shared a vision for advancing our industry and leading digital delivery efforts. 

There are so many examples of where we have succeeded with developing, using and enhancing technology. The success we have had has spread throughout WSB and all our staff understand the importance of using technology to advance our clients goals. I’m excited about the progress we’ve made, but I’m looking forward to what’s next in our digital evolution.

COVID-19 Testing & Vaccination Assistance

By Andi Moffatt, Vice President of Environmental Services, WSB

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread through the country, WSB was called on by the Minnesota State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) to assist in COVID-19 testing logistics. As project managers in the AEC industry, our team is used to working under pressure – and this task was no exception. We welcomed the chance to assist the state in testing Minnesotans and to do our part in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

A LARGE EFFORT THAT SPANNED ACROSS THE STATE.

The size and scale of this project was enormous. Representatives from the state, cities, counties, local public health organizations and staff at the vaccination and testing venues came together as a coalition to get this project off the ground and operational. To support these efforts, several WSB team members from across the company stepped in to assist on the emergency contract to set-up and manage the logistics of the state’s no barrier COVID-19 testing sites. We provided project management, IT, site mapping and drone photography, visual documentation and information gathering, and general logistics on behalf of the state.

GETTING MINNESOTANS VACCINATED.

As vaccines became available throughout the state, the SEOC asked WSB to manage the logistics associated with COVID-19 vaccine sites. We continue to work behind the scenes to help Minnesotans get vaccinated.

TACKLING CHALLENGES HEAD ON.

This project has been rewarding for many of us at WSB. It reinforces our commitment to supporting our communities and the challenges they face, no matter what they may be. Internally, we’ve also reminded ourselves that nothing is too big for us to tackle together and that we will work across departments, teams and offices to deliver for our clients.

“We are honored to have been able to play a role in such a dedicated, committed and passionate network across the state,” said Andi Moffatt, vice president of environmental services. “Public health is a priority, and we will continue to work with the state and our local communities to help deliver this critical support.”

Andi is a Vice President with more than 23 years of experience leading people and projects that include planning, environmental, energy, highway, natural resources, construction and development. She oversees our Environmental services and approaches her work with passion and positivity.

amoffat@wsbeng.com | 763.287.7196

What every community should know about asset management

Bart Fischer, Senior Public Administrator, WSB

Bart Fischer, Senior Public Administrator, discusses how asset management can lead to better decision making with WSB’s Director of GIS Services Justin Hansen.

Asset management is incredibly important, but not often valued to its full potential. Gathering data is great, but only if that data is used effectively.

I recently sat down with WSB’s Director of GIS Services, Justin Hansen to learn more about Asset Management to get his perspective on how communities can use it to their advantage.

BF: Asset management is a big topic – I often find it overwhelming. What is the main thing a community should understand about asset management and GIS?

JH: Asset management is incredibly undervalued. Solid asset management can lead to more informed decision-making, proactive and practical planning, improved capital planning decisions and better resource management.

BF: What is one of the most common issues you see when it comes to asset management within a city?

JH: I think asset management is misunderstood by some communities. Many cities will go out and purchase a system, but they struggle to realize the benefits of it. The system becomes something that is just being used for data input and nothing of true value. It may be assisting a city with their day-to-day support of operations, but they’re not using it to its full potential as an organizational-wide decision support platform.

BF: What is the solution to that problem?

JH: Education and planning. Take the time to educate key staff about asset management and how it can be applied to your city. Include staff across the city; not just public works and engineering. Develop an asset management strategy and plan for implementation. This helps develop organizational goals and allows the city to make a more educated decision on how to proceed with asset management.

Some communities may only need to start with a GIS-centric asset management approach where they utilize tools like WSB’s Datafi. Datafi gives cities an easy-to-use tool to manage field operations using GIS. Datafi can help change the culture at a city to understand the benefits of using technology in the field to assist with operations. Other communities will want to invest in full-blown asset management systems that meet their needs for approaches to asset management, operations and planning.

BF: How does streamlining asset management benefit a city?

Cities have an immense challenge around how they operate efficiently and effectively. Balancing the needs of residents, planning for future infrastructure improvements and preparing for the unexpected are benefits that come from a strong approach to asset management. Data gives staff ammunition to back-up a decision or a recommendation. It provides transparency and helps align priorities. 

BF: How have you seen cities be successful with Asset Management?

JH: Cities that have been successful with asset management have always built a culture that embraces using technology to manage operations. It’s hard to think outside of the status quo when you’re driving forward fast and furiously but investing in these systems now will better prepare communities for the future. Also, successful communities get engaged and communicate the impact that asset management has on their organization to their residents while also providing ways for their residents to participate through citizen request applications.

There’s been a lot of chatter about Smart Cities and Smart Communities recently, but what I find the most interesting is that many communities are already smart. They’re using GIS and asset management to make data-driven decisions. Leveraging data to make informed decisions is the core tenant of a smart community. Don’t be afraid to embrace it!

Bart Fischer has over two decades of experience in public administration. Throughout his tenure, he’s worked in five Minnesota communities as the city or assistant city administrator.  Bart joined our firm in 2019 as a senior public administrator and focuses on lending his public service expertise to our clients.

bfischer@wsbeng.com | 651.286.8484

Justin Hansen has over 13 years of experience in managing GIS projects, staff, software development, solutions design, integration and implementation. Justin works closely with clients to implement GIS-based tools and related systems that maximize value and foster engagement.

jhansen@wsbeng.com | 763.231.4846

Using Advanced Traffic Simulation Technology for Construction Staging and Maintenance of Traffic

By Do Nam, Sr. Traffic Operations Engineer, WSB

Construction operations on roadways disrupt normal traffic flow and generate undesirable delay. As traffic continues to increase throughout many metro areas, the Federal Highway Administration has been encouraging DOTs to be more proactive in their maintenance of traffic during construction. 

Good construction staging provides safe and efficient traffic operations throughout a project to minimize impacts on the community during construction. WSB has begun development of traffic models that simulate the flow of traffic under different staging scenarios. These traffic simulation models consider all available routes, how construction will impact these routes and how much additional time this will add for commuters. These models are being used to determine if there are improvements that need to be made on any surrounding routes to allow for better operations throughout construction.

This new approach is more proactive than past construction staging methods and is based upon data. By modeling actual construction conditions, we’re able to pinpoint where potential challenges may occur during construction and how to avoid them. Below is a list of potential benefits of construction staging and maintenance of traffic modeling using traffic simulation.

The benefits of advanced traffic simulation for construction staging and maintenance of traffic

  1. By understanding what the impacts to the community are, we can be more proactive in mitigating them.
  2. If we better understand what routes traffic will use, we can ensure that traffic controls are set up to accommodate additional traffic volumes.
  3. Limit changes can be evaluated.
  4. Informs decisions on critical maintenance items.
  5. Provides a public engagement tool for cities and residents.

Through advanced traffic simulation technology, we’ve been able to enhance construction staging plans resulting in better projects.

Do has been a civil engineer in the transportation field for over 25 years. His experience includes modeling, operational analysis, design and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) of large-scale transportation projects in both the United States and Qatar. Do has successfully managed over 30 major transportation and research projects utilizing traditional macroscopic travel demand forecasting modeling and state-of-the-art microscopic traffic simulation modeling techniques.

dnam@wsbeng.com | 763.760.8090

How to leverage technology and streamline environmental compliance inspection

By Zach Kolsum, Environmental Compliance Specialist, WSB

Conducting inspections on infrastructure projects can be daunting, especially when they require extensive reporting and legwork to comply with local, state and federal regulations. Fortunately, there are technological tools available to assist environmental compliance and construction inspection, which streamline the arduous process of data collection and reporting for clients. Using standardized software, WSB provides the necessary equipment and materials to conduct a variety of inspections, enhanced reporting and automated data collection.

Enhanced reporting

Electronic inspections offer an effective way for teams to visualize the work being done onsite. Data is collected and compiledusing a software application to generate a list of report leads. Project partners can share critical information instantly using the visual media tool.

Share project information quickly

Depending on the project, problems that arise during inspection can be costly and take valuable time away from clients and shareholders as they work to find a solution. WSB provides automated reporting and digital photo sharing with the click of a button to the entire project team. Reporting is tracked through an online database and clients can save documents and project findings in the application archive. Sharing project reporting instantly between team members is an easy way to monitor and ensure work is progressing on schedule.

Manage your data

Leveraging the use of mobile devices for inspection improves the effectiveness of field data collection by integrating mapping and field technologies into a single workflow. This methodology also minimizes the possibility of human error which increases the quality of data overall. Collected information is analyzed using a powerful search engine that identifies trends and future forecasting.

Use Datafi for Environmental Compliance inspection

WSB’s Environmental Compliance and GIS groups worked together to develop Datafi, a mobile-friendly mapping and workflow tool to improve the environmental compliance inspection process. Datafi is a field-to-office data management solution that has allowed multiple groups within WSB to actively and efficiently inspect numerous project sites to ensure compliance. Datafi is used on small and large-scale projects including housing and land developments. Our team of inspectors have benefited from Datafi’s enhanced reporting, efficiency and improved data management in the field.

As tedious as documentation management may feel at times, it is an essential part of any program development. Discovering new ways to refine processes is paramount for keeping information as reliable and accessible as possible. We believe utilizing technology allows project teams to focus more heavily on the technical aspects of the work and bringing their client’s vision to life.

Zach is an Environmental Compliance Specialist dedicated to improving his community. He has a strong understanding of federal and state regulations, providing technical, administrative, and operational support for a variety of clients concerning NPDES regulations (MS4, construction, industrial permitting) and compliance with the Clean Water Act. Zach is committed to improving his community through environmental and conservation services, including soil erosion and stormwater management.

zkolsum@wsbeng.com / 612.201.6809

WSB Selected to Design TH 169, Rebuilding Gateway to Greater Minnesota

WSB is thrilled to partner with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to provide final roadway and bridge design services for the Highway 169 (TH 169) Reconstruction Project.

TH 169 is a significant north-south highway in Minnesota. It serves rapidly developing communities and is a gateway to exploring recreational areas in Greater Minnesota. The highway is heavily traveled by both vehicles and pedestrians. Expanding the highway is intended to improve safety and reduce the average rate of collisions in the area.

Jody Martinson, vice president of transportation at WSB, anticipates this project will have a lasting impact and looks forward to delivering a safer commute for surrounding communities.

“This project is incredibly important to users of the TH 169 corridor,” said Martinson. “Being able to work side-by-side with MnDOT to improve the safety and mobility for motorists and pedestrians is extremely gratifying. WSB is excited to utilize technology and innovative solutions to improve the efficiency of design and construction.”

The reconstruction will address operational, infrastructure and mobility issues, all important elements considered when the project was selected for the Corridors of Commerce (CoC) program. The project will replace four signalized intersections with interchanges and consolidate access points, drastically improving safety and mobility. Local roadways will be reconstructed to create ADA accessible routes at the interchanges. The TH 169 project is expected to reduce roadway delay by more than 1,000 hours per day, eliminate $1.7 million in annual crash costs, and provide more reliable travel times for the public.

The project is also a CMGC project. As a CMGC (Construction Manager/General Contractor), the process will involve several stakeholders and team members throughout the design and construction process. The project will also require strong coordination and communication with MnDOT. Project manager, Peter Muehlbach formed an expert team to ensure the CMGC process is efficient, effective and economical for reconstruction.

“When fully utilized, the CMGC design process allows for a more collaborative work environment between designer and contractor,” said Muehlbach. “I am excited for the opportunity to make design decisions together with our MnDOT, Sherburne County, city of Elk River and Ames Construction partners.”

Additionally, the project team will leverage state-of-the-art and emerging technologies to provide sustainable solutions during the design phase. By utilizing modeling tools, WSB will streamline construction management, drainage and utility relocation processes.

Planning for the TH 169 Reconstruction Project is underway with final design set to begin this summer. Phased construction will begin in fall 2022 with project completion set for 2024.

5G and Small Cell Infrastructure

The things to know about the world’s newest technology disruptor.

Terms such as 5G and small cell infrastructure are buzz words in today’s ever-changing innovative landscape, but what does that mean for the communities we live and work in?  Federal mandates are constantly being updated and new technology is replacing ‘old’ technology quicker than many can keep track of.  What was once cutting-edge is becoming obsolete faster and faster.  As the world continues to rely on more data, the demand for access to that data continues to grow.  Our technology-reliant world is driving carriers to build more towers and access points throughout the world.  As these initiatives continue to grow, the communities we live and work in are starting to prepare. Small cell infrastructure and 5G preparation can look different depending on the type of community you live in and where you are in the United States.

Here are 10 things to know about small cell infrastructure. 
  1. What exactly is small cell infrastructure? The CTIA, an organization that advocates and represents the U.S. wireless communications industry, defines small cell as: Small radio equipment and antennas that can be placed on structures such as streetlights, the sides of buildings, or poles. They are about the size of a pizza box, and are essential for transmitting data to and from a wireless device.
  2. Today, the United State is at critical mass for data. We play more games, we use more apps and the tools that power our daily lives rely on application-driven data. 5G brings greater speed, lower latency and the ability to connect more devices at once.
  3. Federal mandates surrounding spectrum and capacity availability have been contentious throughout the years as politicians and communities gain more knowledge. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has developed a 5G FAST Plan, a comprehensive strategy to facilitate and accelerate the deployment of America’s high-speed internet access.
  4. While other countries around the globe are advancing their technology infrastructure, the United States is taking steps to lead the world in 5G. The FCC is committed to increasing spectrum availability, updating infrastructure policy to encourage the private sector to invest and modernizing outdated regulations that will promote digital opportunities for all Americans.
  5. Have we seen 5G before? Yes, several test markets have activated for large events, especially events that take place on a world-stage. States like California, New York, Colorado, Minnesota and Texas, all of which have high growth rates, have also been investing heavily in small cell infrastructure and 5G technology. Carriers are aggressively rolling this technology out in densely populated areas to more easily distribute data in high deployment areas. Additionally, large corporate headquarters are working closely with carriers to implement related projects and technologies.
  6. Big goals and big legislation are driving the 5G movement. We’re working closely with municipalities throughout the United States to help them understand the processes that will be required and affected by small cell infrastructure. 
  7. Small cell infrastructure is being implemented where the demand is highest. 5G not only increases coverage and speed but most importantly increases capacity, and that’s why carriers are focusing on densely populated areas first. 
  8. 5G will still come from large cellular towers, but small cell infrastructure will be placed to increase capacity and data availability. Tower companies are working closely with carriers to deliver alternative solutions.
  9. In 2017, the first federal mandate was implemented to say that cities around the country cannot say no to 5G infrastructure. The mandate states that cities and communities are not able to prevent 5G from happening, but they are able to set regulations that a carrier must abide by. The question is not whether communities will choose to participate, but rather if they’re prepared for it.
  10. Small cell infrastructure will affect everyone from the most urban environments to rural towns. Cities are developing ordinances to regulate how small cell infrastructure is implemented throughout their communities. Several cities are developing permits, planner reviews and regulations to ensure that small cell infrastructure is structurally sound, aesthetically-pleasing and are protecting historically significant landmarks.