Above all, the unvarying edict of any city government is to ensure public safety within its community. As we proliferate the entry and use of new mobility into cities to support and advance our values around sustainability and social equity there are complex challenges involved regarding safety and resilience.
At the crux of keeping a community safe is planning and preparedness. For example, we certainly wouldn’t allow cars on roads without being designed, tested and licensed for the appropriate modern safety and privacy measures for those inside the vehicle. In addition to this we must design the proper, standardized infrastructure, regulations and redundancies such as traffic signals, stop signs, curbs, and speed limits to protect those outside of the vehicle.
Regardless of the best efforts by local jurisdictions, in the past 10 years there have been multiple instances of new mobility providers such as scooters and transportation network companies attempting to “disrupt” the status quo of the transportation ecosystem. Many have offered the promise of sustainable and equitable travel, yet tested our preparedness to offer that travel in a safe and resilient manner. In the case of scooters, there was a race between service providers to rapidly grow their footprints and VC fueled valuations. This manifested itself by showing up often unannounced on city sidewalks with a complete lack of direction regarding how, when, and where to ride and park them. This created a bit of a Wild West scenario that caused not only clutter and blocked sidewalks, but injury and even death.
Cities have had to scramble to keep up with innovations in the mobility system while also working within the existing processes of local government to put forth policies and regulations. Years later, cities are now working with scooter service providers to standardize regulations, safety measures, and operations. While there are still some hiccups, scooters are now working to fulfill the original promise of providing an effective solution for first and last mile mobility within congested areas.
A clear take away from the scooter story is for government to monitor trends and both public and private to have the appropriate level of stakeholder engagement ahead of mass rollouts to begin to set forth policy prior to the introduction of new transport methods. And fast approaching is the next dimension of mobility – drones.
You may be surprised at the number of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) – or drones – that are already operating above cities every day. Case in point, California has roughly 55.6 drone pilots per 100,000 residents, translating to over 21,000 drones operating in that airspace alone. While many of these users are currently recreational pilots, large logistics companies have been working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to rapidly advance their drone delivery technology to provide safe, sustainable, and cost-effective options that remove vehicles from our already congested streets. It is expected after the release of the expected FAA regulations to allow drone flights beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) of pilots, the number of drones in daily use will dramatically increase.
As BVLOS advances, many cities that don’t have proper tools to assess the safety of the operation vehicles or the policies in place to mitigate risks, might find themselves overwhelmed when new forms of mobility come knocking on their communities’ doorsteps.
First, consider the potential hazards of public misconception. As more and more drones enter the airspace above homes, businesses, schools, and government buildings transporting packages, medical supplies and more, citizens may feel threatened, overloading 911 lines and causing sizable unrest and backlash.
Second, drone operators without proper usage guidelines put the public in serious danger. As with automobiles on the ground, we can’t have roadways in the sky operating without regulations. A rogue or “wild west” scenario absolutely must be avoided to keep communities safe.
One city that is setting the standard for thoughtful engagement on drone regulations is Ontario, California. A partnership with Airspace Link and our GIS-based digital mapping system, AirHub, is powering the design of new, safe business operations such as package delivery and emergency first responder management. The AirHub digital infrastructure establishes FAA compliant drone flights in the community to facilitate future UPS, Amazon, and Alphabet’s Wing Drone deliveries that will drive sustainable economic growth throughout California.
It is Airspace Link’s mission to mitigate risk by working with communities in exactly this way. By offering access to real-world-tested data and digital infrastructure that planners can build and manage policies and regulations at the federal, state, and local levels that enable drones to fly safely throughout communities.
Even as you read this, Airspace Link is empowering test flights involving the transport of packages such as small auto parts, COVID-19 test kits, and even non-viable human organs solely to gather data and provide a usable blueprint for other communities to use. AirHub then acts as the bridge between the drone operators and state & local governments to ensure the safety of operator missions and the communities they operate in.
Drone usage can and will massively change our cities. We’ve learned from the multiple forms of new mobility integration that lack of preparation can be problematic. But, if planned for and implemented well, communities stand to reap remarkable benefits by paving the way for safe drone operations, including reductions in congestion and carbon emissions, and boosted commerce to facilitate sustainable growth.
At Airspace Link, we look forward to unlocking these benefits for cities across the country as we collaborate and share resources with city planners to ensure that the integration of this next dimension in transport is executed soundly.
For more information on you can prepare your community, contact us here.