$94 Million for Transportation & Curb Management
EVs head to the sticks, flexing dollars for transit, paying cash for pizza, Boxed bankruptcy
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OMF Cities Sweep Latest Round of SMART Grants
This week the USDOT awarded $94 million in SMART grant funding, as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA.) 59 projects received funding, from a total of 392 applications for fiscal year 2022.
This program has focused on tech solutions geared towards optimizing curb space and combatting congestion, with winning projects including sensors to detect bikes and pedestrians in Phoenix, drones to deliver critical medical supplies in Virginia, and transit signal priority in Orange County. But the big winner was curb management - which the USDOT called out as a specific project type, with each winning recipient in that category receiving approximately $2 million in funding.
Eight of those winners banded together under the auspices of the Open Mobility Foundation, forming the “Smart Grant Collaborative.” Using the Curb Data Specification, these cities are looking to to gather and analyze curb and sidewalk data to reduce congestion, improve livability, and increase safety and equity on city streets. Look for those smarter curbs in Los Angeles, Miami-Dade County, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle.
“Public streets and sidewalks can be safer, more dynamic, and deliver more value to our communities. While investment in traditional physical infrastructure like bridges and roads is important, we must also invest in the digital infrastructure that allows cities to manage public spaces in the modern era. Thanks to USDOT’s critical investment in digital infrastructure through the SMART grant program, we will see benefits across the nation through the investment in open source tools like the Open Mobility Foundation’s Curb Data Specification. The OMF is excited to lead this collaborative of cities and tech partners on the cutting edge of curb management.“ - Andrew Glass Hastings, Executive Director, OMF
HOT INDUSTRY NEWS & GOSSIP
EV charging heads for the boonies: Electric vehicle chargers have been popping up beside sidewalks, highways and commercial parking lots in cities across the country, but there’s still a noticeable gap in the more rural parts of America. Now funding from the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program is starting to plug that hole, dolling out cash to less populated states, hoping that makes drivers there more confident in a switch to electric. Montana, for example, will receive $43 million in funding, aiming to nudge up the state’s EV numbers from its current paltry count of 30,000. Given the politics of the state, local officials are couching it in economic development terms, noting the money should help spur EV owners from other states to feel more comfortable visiting scenic small towns. How long until there are enough chargers in front of the biker bars one state over in South Dakota that Sturgis’ famed motorcycle rally can go all electric?
💪 FLEX! Looks like there’s lots of Fed money to crow about today, as BIL cash really starts to flow. One problem for transit advocates is that much of the money is still programmed towards automotive and highway centric uses. Fear not - Transit Center has a handy primer on how states can flex much of that money into more sustainable uses. DOTs with the right inclination should be able to shrink highway dollars from about 63% of the pot down to 21-22%.
Why are restaurants more forward thinking than governments? Dynamic pricing is the holy grail of transportation and congestion management. While TNC users may be familiar with it (“surge pricing,”) it’s essentially nonexistent in American publicly managed transportation systems (“congestion pricing,”) other than on the occasional tolled highway, despite the fact that cities worldwide have proven it can both decrease traffic and generate funding for other modes. Now here’s another industry that’s jumped ahead of American cities, as restaurants increasingly look to dynamic pricing as a way to balance demand and profitability; Noodles & Company expects to quickly recoup the infrastructure costs necessary to roll it out across the company’s 368 restaurants.
Speaking of cash… It seems what’s old is new again, at least when it comes to paying for pizza pies. DoorDash is set to introduce a cash payment option for certain deliveries, recreating the old “paying the Domino’s guy with a wadded-up twenty” experience that tech was supposed to disrupt years ago.
Bird’s bath: Micromobility pioneer Bird’s rescue by its Canadian affiliate is on shaky ground, as the company released its final pre-acquisition financial results: $244.7 million of revenue and a growing $358.7 million net loss, as average rides per deployed vehicle per day fell to 1.0 from 1.3 in the previous year. Since then, the company has announced $3 million in additional funding, and company founder Travis VanderZanden bought up one million shares. Despite that, the company’s market cap is teetering right around that of embattled competitor Helbiz.
Boxed into a corner: Bulk groceries via delivery startup Boxed is teetering at the verge of bankruptcy, 15 months after raising $240 million via a SPAC. Now, shares are firmly in the penny stock category, as its quarterly burn far exceeds its cash on hand. What does this portend as other companies move into the challenging world of big and bulky delivery?
Trash city: NYC exceptionalism looks to “win” again, as the city’s sanitation department declares that its clean curbs pilot program is not scalable citywide. The program was a modest step towards trash containerization, with local notables instead characterizing it as “bags in enclosures.” Cities as dense and varied as Paris and Hong Kong have somehow figured how to get leaky bags of garbage off of the sidewalk, but evidently suburbanites in Staten Island will have to wait a bit longer for a homegrown solution.
Gatik & Kroger team up in Texas: Most AV attention is focused on the last mile, but progress in the middle mile could have big implications for the ever-growing number of trucks serving warehouses nationwide. Supermarket giant Kroger announced a partnership with Mountain View’s Gatik, bringing AV trucks to a Dallas-area fulfillment center. Gatik has existing customers in the DFW area, including Sam’s Club and Georgia-Pacific, meaning this new partnership can get right to moving meat, and spend less time studying the region’s famously bad roads.
A toast to good times! Our own Harry Campbell gives a shout-out to Toast, and restaurant entrepreneur Shawn Walchef, as industry honchos got together at the London West Hollywood to hash out the future of restaurant payments. Take a look.
Speaking of restaurant payments… ItsaCheckmate acquired Open Tender, a first-party ordering software solution. With these combined capabilities, we might see the company start going after the likes of Olo and Lunchbox.
More money, more problems: A lawsuit alleging that food delivery fees raise restaurant prices cannot be moved to arbitration, ruled Southern District of New York Judge Lewis Kaplan. The litigants claim delivery apps have unlawfully fixed prices for meals, even those not ordered online, by forbidding restaurants from lowering prices.
Watch out for that Tesla! Kudos to the Washington Post for its deep dive on how Tesla’s self-driving project has gone off the rails. Musk overruled engineers that worried that switching to a camera-only system would be disastrous not only for drivers, but innocent bystanders as well. The data bears out their concern: “phantom breaking,” to use a relatively innocuous example, rose from 34 complaints in 22 months to 107 complaints in three months, after radar was eliminated.
Curb jobs: Looking to fix up curbs in Austin, Texas? The city is hiring a Capital Improvement Program Manager and multiple transportation engineers. ATX is going to need all the help it can get, as its once ambitious light rail construction plans have been scaled back to a single line running in traffic.
Safer streets come to poorer cities? The FTA is waiving a local match funding requirement through 2026, as it looks to spur more complete street programs. Poorer cities have some of the greatest needs for street, sidewalk, and bike lane improvements, but often have been unable to compete for federal money as they’re too destitute to put up the 2.5% matching funds that were previously required.
A few more Curbivore 2023 links: Spectrum News does an eight minute deep dive on the future of the curb, after stopping by Curbivore ‘23. And our partners at Nash recap what they learned at the conference about what comes next for delivery. If you’re ready to share your company’s vision for curbs and delivery, reach out to chat about partnerships.
And a few other links: LA Superior Court rules “no-vending zone” lawsuit will continue. Now serving at a ghost kitchen near you: Stranger Things with a side of Schnapp's sandwiches. MARTA releases spicy statement pushing back against city audit. SEPTA cancels King of Prussia rail project after Feds determine nobody wants to take a very windy train to the mall. Restaurant revenue rises, largely on the backs of higher menu prices. IPCC warns warming Earthlings. Palm Springs prefers empty asphalt to vibrant street life.
Until next week!
- Jonah Bliss & The Curbivore Crew