Once limited to the Jetsons family on your TV, aerial rideshare is closer to reality than ever. Recently, Uber unveiled their latest planning and development for EVTOLs (electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles) and Skyports at the Uber Elevate Summit on Urban Air Mobility in Washington D.C. Uber’s all-electric air taxis are making rapid strides toward their first commercial flights, with considerable support from other private and public sector organizations.
ZGF Principal and senior urban designer, Jerome Unterreiner, was invited to attend the Uber Elevate Summit. He sat down with us to share his thoughts on this new form of mobility and why moving transportation to the sky will have positive implications for what happens on the ground.
- EVTOLs are no longer a far-fetched idea. Transportation needs to go three dimensional, like skyscrapers did for people working and living in cities. Historically, as density increased and cities grew upward transportation stayed on the surface. With mobility growing in the third dimension, new degrees of freedom and flexibility on the ground can be realized.
- The federal government, including NASA, FAA and USDOT, agree that EVTOLs are coming. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao says this will be upon us faster than ever and they are excited and supporting this transformation. The FAA is fully on board with the big changes, according to Acting Administrator Dan Elwell, and they have become more nimble to respond and evolve to new innovation and technology. Their top three priorities are 1.) safety, 2.) refurbishing the country’s infrastructure, economy and quality of life, and 3.) innovation.
- Three cities: Los Angeles, Dallas, and Melbourne have signed on to launch EVTOLs by 2023. Prototype vehicles are being designed by a variety of companies that include Boeing, Embraer, Bell Helicopter, electric airplane maker Pipistrel, and many startups. Uber continues to develop partnerships that include AT&T, MacQuarie capital – the largest owner and operator of global infrastructure – and Related Companies, which has an interest in exploring new mobility, such as Skyports, as part of their development plans.
What are you most excited about?
I am very interested in the “more freedom on the ground” proposition of aerial rideshare. The infrastructure around aerial mobility will transform existing parking garages and create new Skyport and parking infrastructure that can accommodate autonomous vehicles parking in tandem with air mobility. These facilities which can also generate and store power, will give roving cars and shuttles a place to charge and connect with other transport modes or shelter to relieve congestion on city roads. To discourage autonomous non-occupancy vehicles from driving around city streets until the next pick up, cities are contemplating pricing schemes based on tracking vehicle miles travelled.
All this adds up to potentially less cars on streets and greater freedom for what happens on the ground. We could attain even greater efficiency by focusing on primary and secondary arterials and preserving urban, local non-arterial streets for a new kind of street or public open space less traveled. I am reminded of Barcelona’s super blocks that are reclaiming streets from cars and transforming them into walkable, mixed-use spaces.
I’m excited by opportunity to radically transform our streets and the character of our grid. Buildings and communities could connect across streets as opposed to sitting on two sides of a car river. For example, what if we simply posited that our urban streets were only open to electric AVs shuttles, so that in effect, they aren’t carless? Instead they are places where trees abound, buildings and communities connect across the street in the shape of plazas and gardens, and mobility simply glides through a diversity of environments. They would all share fresh air, cool temperatures, the smells and sounds of nature, and safety. AVs guided by a combination of sensors and software control could easily navigate through these kinds of open spaces, replacing humans with a wheel in front of their chest barreling down asphalt lanes with signs, traffic lights, and bright intrusive overhead lighting. These spaces would allow us to reconnect to nature to enhance mental and physical well-being and make being outside the building a valued proposition.
Any final thoughts?
I took a VR aerial rideshare trip from Mission Bay in San Francisco to Santa Clara in 15 minutes at the Elevate Summit. I am really excited by the proposition that I could take that time savings and embark on a restorative walk, bike or scooter ride through a park-like environment.
Jerome Unterreiner is a senior urban designer with more than 26 years of experience assisting communities, public agencies, and developers to visualize and create sustainable, beautiful, and lasting plans and guidelines for future development and transportation systems within urban settings.