Reimagining the Future of Cities Through Aerial Rideshare

Tim Hudson

For the first time ever, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and their numbers are growing by 1 million people each week. About 3.6 billion people live in urban areas today.

Tim Hudson  

is a principal and the firmwide Aviation Practice area leader at Gensler, a global architecture, design and planning firm with 48 locations across Asia, Europe, Australia, the Middle East and the Americas. He has led project teams at some of the world’s busiest airports, such as Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport, supporting both airport and airline clients.

As designers and thought leaders, Gensler is committed to improving cities for people. To do that, we believe the places and spaces within a city should be connected, mobile-friendly, and resilient to climate change, provide great human experiences, and have a significant social impact.

Mobility in particular has an enormous impact on a person’s experience within a city. If we can improve mobility, we can give people back time, reduce our carbon footprint, and we can begin transitioning our city streets back to the people. This is the promise fulfilled by aerial rideshare.

An Evolving Design Approach

The future of aerial ridesharing is now on the horizon. Today, eVTOL (electric vertical take off and landing) vehicles are nearing flight demonstrations, and certification with the FAA hovers within reach. A critical window to study and address the technological, planning and behavioral challenges is upon us. 

One such challenge will be the creation of the operational infrastructure to accommodate a high number of flight operations in a traditionally planned urban environment with restricted flight areas. Gensler has addressed this challenge by developing a forward-thinking solution to retrofit existing parking structures (that are strategically located) with the infrastructure needed to support eVTOL flight operations. These solutions will evolve into ground up, bespoke structures meant to serve as a transportation hub and a thriving community asset.  

As aerial rideshare matures, so will the approach to the planning and design of this modality. Current regulatory guidelines state that skyports will follow traditional heliport design. As eVTOL vehicles reach maturity, technology will be tested, refined and improved. This will give us the ability to rethink regulatory requirements and open the planning paradigm to more opportunities. 

While demand for ground-based and aerial rideshare grows and throughput requirements peak, congestion will be an issue in the sky, just as it is on the curbside. Ultimately, this will result in noise concerns for the surrounding communities. Vehicle manufacturers are already in the process of addressing these concerns. First, eVTOL vehicles are being designed as all-electric vehicles. Second, designers are incorporating multiple smaller rotors rather than create lower volume rotor harmonics that will blend together. In contrast, a vehicle with one large rotor would create a singular higher volume with a more intrusive noise profile.

Community Assets

Ultimately, the biggest impacts will be on the community experience. Skyports will play a vital role in shaping the way cities are navigated, lived in and explored. 

Transporting people from greater distances with more efficiency will affect our cities in two ways. First, a reduction in parking need will reduce the size and number of parking garages and single-use surface lots. Second, the rise of skyports will bind diverse community functions together, serving neighborhoods with shopping, dining, education and health/wellness programs, while also reducing congestion across the city. These skyports will facilitate unprecedented orchestration of movement and modality with the potential to redefine the future of cities.

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