A proposal has been created that would make Portland State home to the first bicycle and pedestrian research institute on the West Coast.
The Bicycle and Pedestrian Institute (BPI) would be housed in the Center for Transportation Studies (CTS), a regional center also supported by the University of Oregon, Oregon State University and the Oregon Institute of Technology. The proposal, drawn up by Assistant Professor Jennifer Dill of Portland State’s Nohad A. Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning, and Assistant Professor Marc Schlossberg of the University of Oregon, envisions an institute “to enhance policies, programs, and projects that promote pedestrian and bicycle travel through research, education, and outreach.”
In addition to Portland State and University of Oregon professors, local supporters of the proposal include the Bike Gallery, Alta Planning + Design, the City of Portland Office of Transportation, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition.
“The idea is that within CTS there will be an entity focused specifically on bike and pedestrian research,” Dill said. “There will be a staff person and a structure to ensure that these modes will be addressed more comprehensively than just whatever individual projects come down the pipeline.”
Like CTS as a whole, the model proposed for the BPI is collaborative, involving and benefiting Portland State, other state universities, government agencies, school districts, advocacy groups, academic and research organizations, and businesses and professional organizations. The institute would conduct research on both local and regional planning issues, land-use policies, education policies and enforcement measures to identify improvements and evaluate effectiveness in achieving pedestrian and bicycle travel goals. This research would be incorporated into community education events and courses, as well as conferences and trainings cosponsored by community partners. Eventually, the institute would serve as a hub of information dissemination and a clearinghouse for print, web and electronic media on bicycle and pedestrian research.
If the proposal is approved, it will offer a number benefits to Portland State students. The institute would offer courses on bicycle and pedestrian transportation design, policy development and programming to undergraduate and graduate students in a variety of fields. Many of these courses would be designed to involve students in projects applying classroom knowledge to hands-on community projects.
The institute would also provide scholarships, dissertation grants and awards for student projects and papers, to encourage students to make bicycle and pedestrian transportation a study focus and career option.
“The institute will generate more resources for students,” Dill said. “Many students come here because they are specifically interested in bicycle transit topics. Right now, the research just depends on individual faculty members doing research on the topic. It’s really individually driven. We want something more coherent.”
The estimated startup cost of the BPI is $250,000, which includes one full-time director, startup funds for continuing education programs and outreach efforts, student fellowships and research grants, and initial research. As part of national group of more than 60 centers for transportation studies eligible for federal matching funds, the institute and CTS would need to raise half of the funding from local partners.
“In the next three to four months, we will be receiving proposals from faculty,” said Associate Professor Robert Bertini, director of CTS. “The program really values multidisciplinary collaboration. We have a national peer-review panel for the selection process. The panel will review faculty proposals with several questions in mind. Is the proposal a good idea? Do they have an external [funding] match? Does the proposal fit the center’s themes?”
CTS at Portland State has three themes: healthy communities, integration of land use and transportation, and advanced technology.
“There’s an opportunity in Portland for interesting research into bike and pedestrian issues,” Bertini said. “In order for a research project to be successful, you need a constituency that is interested in the results. We want the research to be relevant, and we want to connect researchers to people with problems that need solving.”
Bertini indicated that the idea of a Bicycle and Pedestrian Institute could come to fruition as part of the competitive selection process once the federal grant money comes through. “At this point, no project has been approved, because we don’t have the authority yet. But it’s very likely that there will be research in bike and pedestrian issues — there’s lots of community and faculty interest.”