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Could This New Rail Line Save Suburban Cities & Retailers?
Redlands' Arrow, Cartken + Uber Eats, EV Vans
While it didn’t receive the fanfare that usually accompanies the ribbon-cutting of a transit project in a coastal city, Redlands’ new Arrow train service could be the most interesting American transportation project to open in a long time. The rail service, which opened October 24th in California’s Inland Empire region, offers not just a new way to get around an auto-oriented environment, but could give a much-needed shot in the arm to struggling brick and mortar businesses.
At first glance, this project may look like a run of the mill “commuter rail” line, the sort of premium-priced train that runs downtown in the mornings, idles at the depot all day long, and then heads back out to the ‘burbs in the PM rush hour. As commute patterns disperse, most countries have moved away from this outmoded type of service, while America remained stubbornly attached. That’s why it’s refreshing to see that Arrow is more of a suburban / hybrid rail system, a step towards the S-Bahn / RERs of Europe, or the through-running trains of East Asia.
To wit: the train runs all day long in both directions, with roughly 30 minute frequencies for broad swaths of the day. Fares are low, with certain route pairs actually cheaper than competing bus service. The line has relatively strong destinations all along the route (a university, Redlands’ downtown, ESRI’s office campus, San Bernardino’s transit hub), as opposed to being only anchored at one end by a large terminal. And in what might be a first for American train service: the new line even host a “through-service” train for Metrolink (a more traditional commuter rail system,) offering express service for folks that want to travel 65 miles to Downtown LA.
While a few other parts of the country have recently opened somewhat similar systems, what sets this one apart is how it could transform the dynamics of its host city, reinvigorating the good bones of a downtown core with an added reason to shop, dine or play nearby.
The city already boasts a pedestrian-oriented “main street,” which draws folks from all over the region to eat, shop, or just walk around in a traffic-calmed environment. Now that people can arrive without their cars, there’s even more reason to be drawn to the area, likely further catalyzing plans to redevelop an adjacent 1970s era dead mall into an extension of the neighborhood.
With any luck, Redlands might be foresighted enough to do a “full Santa Monica Promenade” and close the entire street to cars. Not only would this make the area all the more lively and inviting, it would further boost the area’s business community, giving them extra square footage to host diners / shoppers, and making it simpler to shift deliveries to bicycle couriers or delivery robots.
This country is festooned with underutilized railroads, struggling retailers, and citizens looking for comfortable places to stretch their legs. Let’s hope a few more regions are forward-thinking enough to make investments that will help alleviate all these problems at once…
HOT INDUSTRY NEWS & GOSSIP
Cartken in the Magic City: The major food delivery networks keep making interesting plays to try new PDD options in different locales. This morning, Uber Eats announced a new partnership with Cartken, bringing AI-powered delivery bots to Miami.
In other PDD news… Kiwibot and Loyola Marymount University partner up, with the campus being the first to host the startups’ improved “high-driving” bots, which have higher route planning fidelity. And in Europe, newcomer LOXO unveiled an on-road autonomous delivery robot.
Two (electric) steps forward, one step back: It was a bumpy week for electric vans and trucks, as Rivian and Mercedes-Benz announced their recent electric van partnership is already on ice. TuSimple and Navistar also called off a partnership that was hoping to achieve Level 4 heavy-duty trucking. Things look better for AV trucker Kodiak, which scored a $50 million contract from the government.
New York, New York: NYC announced the creation of a new “public realm czar” which will hopefully bring order to the city’s congested (and trash bin inhospitable) curbs. This person will have a lot on his or her plate, as the city is looking to make parklets and streateries permanent in a bid to get commuters back to the CBD. Hopefully they can also push back on this asinine plan to add lanes to the BQE, and help the city meet its faltering bus lane goals.
Boston, Boston: The Hub City is quickly becoming one of the most interesting in the country for transit expansion, but will that translate into livelier curb spaces as well? This week the region opened a long-anticipated expansion of the Green Line, adding five new stations to Somerville and Medford. A few miles south, there are also plans afoot to expand Roxbury’s bus lanes. Now if only the cerebral city could fight its urge to do dumb things like shut down taquerias that want to serve late into the night…
Everywhere, Everywhere: The battle to end parking minimums is faring well, as friend of the curb Alex Mitchell documents in an excellent writeup. The trend is picking up speed, as in the past few days alone the city of Tigard, Oregon jumped on the bandwagon. Expect nothing but positive externalities, as this review of Edmonton’s improvements attests.
A gaggle of grocery news! Over in Norway, online grocer Oda raised €150m in fresh funding, albeit in a down round. Beats going out of business though! Getir’s acquisition of Gorillas is now officially official. And nationwide, online grocery sales look to be down slightly compared to last year. Meanwhile. Colorado sues to slow Kroger-Albertsons tie-up.
No, this headline isn’t from five years ago… “New E-Scooter Company TukTuk Hits LA Streets” Huh…
Delivery-only gift cards? Virtual Dining Concepts continues to innovate, launching a MrBeast Burger gift card. (VDC’s Kelly Grogan was kind enough to join us in 2022 and 2020.) At this point, it feels like 10% of all road traffic must be delivery drivers moving french fries for Jimmy Donaldson, the world’s biggest YouTuber…
Small vehicle, big impact! Electric minicars could be the key to solving urban congestion, while also making mid-range deliveries more sustainable. Be sure to see these innovative vehicles, including some from partners like Nimbus, XOTO, and Waev, at Curbivore in March.
Movmi: Take a look at this pitch competition hosted by Movmi. They’re taking applications for their 2023 Empower Women in Shared Mobility Pitch from young companies with at least one woman co-founder or executive in the shared mobility space. If you fit that criteria, sign up here.
Hot links for a cold December: Car-addled California Coastal Commission pushes back on San Diego’s outdoor dining setups. London turns parking garage into delivery hub. Chicago moves forward with Red Line extension TIF. Now trending: robot bartenders. Maybe that huge sale was too ambitious? Rad Power Bikes cuts staff. Against free transit. Mapping the GHG emissions of various cities and their suburbs. The return of High Maintenance? NYC looks to bike couriers to kickstart cannabis delivery. Prop 22 and the gig economy get their day in court. More like red apron… Street vendors vs City of Los Angeles. Does anyone know the German word for "curb management"? An electric van we’d love to see stateside. Dutch-X hopes to conquer the Big Apple’s delivery market with e-bikes. New Jersey shows there’s hope yet for bus operators. Cargoroo (say that 10 times fast) raises €10M for electric cargo bikes. Curbivore calls for speakers and topics for our March conference.
See some of you LA-based curb nerds at tonight’s AILA Holiday Party?
- Jonah Bliss & The Curbivore Crew