A few days before the federal government shut down on Oct. 1, it awarded a $2.83 million grant to the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium to fund various transportation studies around the country.
OTREC is based out of and led by Portland State, but it works in partnership with the University of Oregon, University of Utah, University of South Florida and Oregon Tech, formerly know as Oregon Institute of Technology.
OTREC is made up of several branches, chief among them being the National Institute for Transportation and Communities, which conducts and oversees the approved studies. The NITC’s goals, according to the institute’s website, are to improve safety, increase efficiency, optimize analysis of transportation data, better integrate transportation options with land use and make significant improvements to vehicle emissions.
With the Students in Transportation Engineering and Planning program, the NITC is able to ensure a high level of involvement from students and faculty with forward-thinking ideas.
“For each project, the principal investigator is a faculty member, and every project we’ve done involves student researchers as well,” said Justin Carinci, the communications director at NITC. PSU has more than 25 specialized transportation courses, so the STEP program acts as an incubator for ideas that vie for approval to receive NITC funding.
One of the current NITC projects that will receive funding will seek to create an application for smartphones to collect data about levels of bicycle and pedestrian service in order to identify areas where the experience of urban cyclists and pedestrians can be improved. The project is a collaboration between researchers at PSU and USF and will be tested in both Oregon and Florida.
Another project underway attempts to evaluate space reallocation and safety effects on how cities split up right-of-way on a roadway surface. Many of the different options for routing cars while limiting congestion have already been extensively analyzed, but there is still much to learn about how to keep these areas safe. PSU students and faculty are likely familiar with the complicated traffic patterns that emerge in a downtown area, where cars, bikes, pedestrians, streetcars, light rail, buses and the occasional unicycle are sharing one road surface.
With all of the projects the NITC chooses to pursue, they take a close look at the potential real world effects.
“If you build a hub with transit options but no one can afford to live there, then you’re not really affecting the people who take transit,” Carinci said.
Other aspects of transportation- and transit-oriented developments are being studied by the NITC as well. Andree Tremoulet, a research associate and adjunct instructor in the school of urban studies and planning at PSU, is leading a project about encouraging low-income families to make location-efficient housing choices, which could potentially improve lives by shortening commutes and increasing convenience of services. Robert Bertini, a civil and environmental engineering professor at PSU, is studying the connections between road vehicles and other kinds of transportation, looking at the links between vehicles and transit, bikes, and pedestrians. Another project, overseen by Oregon Tech associate professor James Long, will examine the feasibility of reducing or eliminating emissions from large service vehicles—like garbage trucks—through the use of a hydraulic electric drive system for use at low speeds.
All the projects the NITC is funding are investigating transportation developments that could improve our urban areas in the future. The recently awarded grant will provide financial backing for two funding cycles, meaning important transportation research will be full speed ahead at PSU for the next couple of years.