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Durham wins $1 million in Bloomberg's U.S. mayors challenge

On Monday, Michael Bloomberg announced that the City of Durham has won the Bloomberg Philanthropies U.S. Mayors Challenge.

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Durham city sign
Yesenia Jones
, WRAL.com intern
DURHAM, N.C. — The city of Durham will receive $1 million after it won a national competition for coming up with ways to confront the toughest problems facing U.S. municipalities.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday announced the news as part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies U.S. Mayors Challenge.

The initiative is a year-long competition that asks city leaders from throughout the country to uncover and test ideas to confront pressing issues.

Durham was among nine cities to receive the money, which will help find solutions to issues such as homelessness, the opioid crisis, mobility, climate change and economic opportunity.

The Bull City was selected as a winner for its innovative approach to get residents and visitors to commute by alternative modes to downtown.

The goal of Durham city leaders was to reduce traffic congestion to downtown by coming up with ways that encouraged residents to take mass transit, according to a press released issued by the city..

“Durham wants to shape its future growth on the mobility options of people and not cars," said Mayor Steve Schewel. "The ideas developed through the Mayors Challenge helped us divert scare resources away from parking decks and toward a public transportation system that will truly further Durham's vision of shared economic prosperity."

The Mayors Challenge Selection Committee is comprised of policy experts, artists, academics, business executives and social innovation leaders. The committee evaluated the cities applications based on their idea's vision, potential for impact, plan and potential to spread to other cities to choose Durham as among the nine winning cities.

“We were thrilled with the results of our pilot program," Schewel said. "and are so grateful to Bloomberg Philanthropies for awarding us another $1 million grant so we can focus on testing additional methods to further reduce the number of cars in downtown Durham by another 5 percent, or about 800 vehicles, to help change the Bull City’s mobility habits to more efficiently use existing transportation infrastructure.”

This year's challenge was different because it included a six month “test and learn” phase where each of the 35 champion cities received a grant of up to $100,000 and technical assistance to test and build support for their ideas.

Durham city officials used the grant funds to partner with Duke University's Center for Advanced Hindsight, Downtown Durham, Inc., and several downtown companies to test two strategies aimed at reducing traffic congestion. A big part of the city strategy is cutting the number of solo drivers who travel to downtown Durham by five percent.

  • The first prong of the plan calls for creating a personalized route for drivers that include mapped options, time comparisons, and benefits. Commuters that received the personalized route reported using travel alternatives, instead of driving alone, 12 percent more than employees that did not receive it.
  • The second, a GoDurham bus lottery, created a game that made riding the bus a competition. Commuters that were invited to play reported commuting by alternatives 19 percent more, and reported a higher level of happiness and lower levels of stress during the pilot.

The U.S. Mayors Challenge builds on the success of previous Bloomberg Philanthropies-sponsored Challenges in the U.S. (2013), Europe (2014), and Latin America and the Caribbean (2016). Previous Mayors Challenge winners include São Paulo, Brazil with a program to increase farmers’ income and reduce urban sprawl; Barcelona, Spain for work to create digital trust networks that support at-risk elderly citizens; and Providence, RI, for a program to measure and reduce the “word gap” among low-income children during pivotal brain development years.


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