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The Brooklyn Bridge, center, and Manhattan Bridge, left, as seen from a Blade helicopter. Photo: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The future of urban air mobility is a lot closer than you think and could start changing the way cities work in just a few years.

The big picture: As roads get ever more congested, transportation is moving to the skies. Electric flying taxis will zip over choked highways, ferrying passengers among a network of "vertiports" around the city. From there, passengers can walk or use another mode of transportation to get to their final destination.

I got a glimpse of the future this week on a quick day trip to New York, where I tried out Blade Urban Air Mobility's helicopter service from Manhattan to JFK Airport.

  • The trip — five minutes in the air, and 20 minutes to curbside at my terminal — cost $195.
  • That compares to the one hour and 13 minutes it would have taken midday in an Uber, which quoted me a fare of $111 (or $142 for an Uber Black car).

How it works: The booking process on Blade's website or app is simple and straightforward. I typed in what time I wanted to arrive at the airport and it scheduled my seat on the appropriate helicopter.

  • The Blade West lounge — in a trailer next to the Hudson River at 30th Street and 12th Avenue — isn't impressive from the street, but inside, there's everything you'd expect in a VIP lounge.
  • When it was time to board, the Blade staff escorted me and another passenger to the whirring chopper, where we buckled into our leather seats, put on headsets and took off.
  • We headed south over the Hudson, around the tip of Manhattan, and then flew over Brooklyn to Queens, where we landed at the Sheltair general aviation facility at JFK.
  • I was escorted off the helicopter to a waiting Cadillac Escalade, where the driver already had my flight information and took me straight to my terminal.

My thought bubble: The Blade flight was both spectacular and sobering. The stunning views of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty were obscured by smoke from the wildfires out West that scientists have linked to human-caused climate change.

  • Electrifying transportation — cars, buses, trucks and even aviation — is more urgent than ever.

What's next: A day after my flight, I called Blade CEO Rob Wiesenthal for his take on the transformation of urban mobility.

  • "It's becoming City 2.0," he told me. "Right now, we're thinking about what is New York going to look like five years from now?"
  • Perhaps as early as 2024, he says, the helicopters that Blade flies today will start to be replaced by a new type of electric vertical aircraft that is lightweight, quiet and emission-free.
  • Looking a bit like oversized drones, they mimic choppers on takeoff and landing, but then fly more like a typical airplane.
  • Companies developing these aircraft like Joby, Wisk and Lilium say they'll be cheaper to build and operate, making urban air mobility more affordable for everyone.

Go deeper

New lobby group will press an urban agenda in D.C.

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The newly formed Coalition for Urban Innovation consists of 14 companies and nonprofits "dedicated to advancing federal policies that make our cities more sustainable and equitable through technology and innovation."

Why it matters: With the infrastructure bill still a congressional work-in-progress, the group aims to tilt money and policy toward smart infrastructure, energy efficiency, clean energy, reducing the carbon footprint of buildings and the like.

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Winter view from Charlotte as winter storm Izzy creates dangerous conditions in Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 16. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The big picture: Heavy snow and ice accumulations were "likely to produce hazardous travel," downed trees and more outages from the Mid-South to the Northeast, per the National Weather Service. Some parts of the U.S. can expect to see up to a foot of snow through Monday.

Updated 4 hours ago - Science

Volcanic eruption in Tonga caused "significant" damage

This satellite image of the eruption on Jan. 15 taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Photo: NICT via AP

Significant damage has been reported in Tonga following an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, which covered the Pacific nation in ash and cut off communication lines.

Driving the news: The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across Tonga's islands and in other regions, including the West Coast of the U.S. and New Zealand.