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Face to face: the future of urban mobility, walking or flying?

In this exclusive interview from our Summit Insider news series, we’ve asked Bronwen Thornton, CEO of Walk21, and Dr Vassilis Agouridas, Strategic Innovation Senior Manager at Airbus to discuss the future of urban mobility. Keep reading to get an insight into the thought-provoking debates that will be held as part our session “the future of urban mobility: walking or flying”!



Bronwen Thornton is CEO of Walk21, a global leader for the walking movement. Together with her team, she has been working since the inception of Walk21 through conference series, consultancy, advocacy and professional development work to promote walking and walkable communities.


Dr Vassilis Agouridas is Strategic Innovation Senior Manager at Airbus. He is responsible for leading, on behalf of Airbus, the Urban Air Mobility (UAM) Initiative of the European Innovation Partnerships on Smart Cities and Communities (EIP-SCC), supported by the European Commission. Airbus will be represented at the Summit by Eduardo Domingez Puerta, head of UAM.


What does the future of urban mobility look like?

Vassilis: We should expect to see more integrated solutions where one mode of transport will act synergistically with one or more other modes. It is vital that we take a holistic approach to urban mobility to ensure that we truly benefit from more efficient transport modes and systems, capitalising on available technologies, reducing operating costs, making mobility more affordable and accessible, and ultimately reducing our collective energy and carbon footprint. In the end, cities and their citizens should be in the driver’s seat of this progress.

Bronwen: In our rush to technological solutions and the buzz of new mobilities, it is easy to forget that there are other cost-effective, efficient modes already available. We have to move away from private motorised travel, but that will only happen when we provide for and value all the other modes to the same level of service.

It’s also easy to forget that for millions of people around the world, new technologies are beyond their reach and they need the basic provisions of safe walking infrastructure to access opportunities and services. So I’d like to think the future of urban mobility looks very walkable, with collective services for longer journeys – people centric rather than system centred.


How can cities tackle the challenge of traffic congestion and free up urban space?

Bronwen: Cities have to invest in attractive walkable neighbourhoods and networks around high volume options, whether bus or train, to underpin the value of these modes and enable more people to access both their local communities and longer distance transport services, on foot. This is only a question of political will to reallocate priority within both the urban space and the access opportunities to space-efficient and high-capacity modes. That political will can then drive decisions and approaches to how traffic is modelled and managed and how urban space is allocated.

Vassilis: For cities, expanding ground transport into the third dimension offers limitless opportunities, from drone-powered medical deliveries and emergency interventions to future integrated urban mobility solutions. However, the challenge of getting multiple stakeholders on board to collaborate on establishing a brand new industry is considerable. In addition, cities and citizens want to ensure the sky stays as safe tomorrow as it is today; this is certainly something that the cities and regions, involved in the UAM Initiative of the EIP-SCC, are seriously taking into consideration.


What would you recommend to city leaders to implement modes of travelling such as walking or flying?

BronwenAs is often said – the future is here, it is just unevenly distributed. For city leaders to implement modes such as walking – is to realise people already are walking. Whatever the data tells you about mode share – it is usually poorly measured. Good data is the critical starting point. Investment in walking is an investment for transport and beyond transport – an investment in your communities, your population health and the social fabric of society. It’s not a choice between walking and any other mode – but a decision to underpin your transport systems and public space with good walkability.

VassilisOne of the questions that surrounds UAM is how we will manage and regulate the use of airspace over urban areas to ensure safety, security and fair access. In this context, the role of cities -and consequently of their citizens- becomes ever important in the shaping of the relevant regulatory and operational frameworks. It has become clear during the UAM Initiative (EIP-SCC) ongoing work with cities and regions across Europe that the general consensus amongst city dwellers is that the sky should give priority to the medical emergencies and inclusive transport (e.g. elderly people)..

This is part of the public debate on how we, as society, want to shape the future of urban mobility. If we as citizens believe the benefits outweigh the costs, in a sustainable manner, then this could be our acceptable and favourable state-of-affairs and would be reflected accordingly to the regulatory and operational frameworks of urban mobility.


What is you preferred mode of travel and why?

Vassilis: In an urban environment, and especially under time pressure, multimodality is my preferred way to arrive on time. That is, walk, ride, drive, and sooner or later, fly.

Bronwen: It all depends on the journey! I truly love walking both for leisure and utility trips. I also love to ride my bicycle because it is so easy and quick for multiple stops around town. For longer journeys, I love the train so that I can work, or the bus if it’s the most direct or cheapest. And yes, I love driving, especially when England is chucking down its famous weather!


Want to continue this discussion? Check out our dedicated session on the future of urban mobility!

Don’t forget to register now to join us at the Summit!