Who We Are
We inform transportation decision making through primary research, building the capacity of the transportation workforce, supporting the education of future transportation professionals, and engaging students in research.
The Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC) is housed at Portland State University (PSU), and we manage a multitude of programs, grants, and projects - including:
- The National Institute for Transportation and Communities (NITC) is one of five University Transportation Centers (UTC's) funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (learn more about the grant here). We pursue our theme — improving mobility of people and goods to build strong communities — through research, education and technology transfer in conjunction with our partner universities: University of Oregon, Oregon Institute of Technology, University of Utah and new partners University of Arizona and University of Texas at Arlington.
- The Initiative for Bicycle and Pedestrian Innovation (IBPI), which shares active transportation insight with professionals and educators through training opportunities, conferences and outreach.
- Transportation-focused education and development opportunities at PSU, such as the weekly Friday Transportation Seminars. As the campus-wide transportation center, TREC helps build the reputation of PSU for transportation that serves livable communities.
Our faculty expertise in innovative transportation research and education earned Portland State a federally funded university transportation center in 2006. That grant, named OTREC, ran through 2014. Portland State used its success in running the OTREC grant program to successfully compete for a second U.S. Department of Transportation grant that became the NITC program. That program was later extended and renewed, with the center competing successfully to be designated one of U.S. DOT's five national university transportation centers.
Our Research Areas
Bicycles and Pedestrians
Portland State research gives walking and bicycling their due as key pieces of a transportation system, exploring the choice to walk or cycle and how to make those options safer. It also looks at the economic factors of a system suited to cyclists and pedestrians. Our education programs, including TREC’s Initiative for Bicycle and Pedestrian Innovation, train professionals to include walking and cycling in all levels of transportation planning, design, engineering, programs and policy.
Understanding that data on walking and cycling need to be put to use before they can help anyone, we work to make sure policymakers and professionals get the best research in formats they understand and use.
Integration of Transportation and Land Use
Portland State both reflects and advances a national reputation for considering land use and transportation together. Oregon laws emphasize the importance of transportation and land use in addressing greenhouse gas emissions and TREC research helps the state continue to lead, particularly in the area of modeling and forecasting tools.
We examine transit-oriented developments to see their effects on housing, jobs and society, including low-income immigrant communities. We also look at the best ways to balance access to businesses along roadways with the need to avoid conflict between various road users. Our research serves to inform thoughtful access management policy that fosters a vibrant economy and safe road users.
Electrification offers many promises for our transportation system. Electric automobiles provide options for emissions control and flexibility, while electric bikes can increase access to active transportation for people with disabilities, older adults and those with long commutes. Portland State has shown leadership in transportation electrification, researching how people use electric vehicles and putting research into practice with vehicle, charging and outreach efforts. Portland State is home to the Electric Avenue charging hub, a living laboratory for charging standards.
Our research into electric-assist bikes provides insight into a blossoming industry. Ongoing evaluation efforts explore the economic, operational, safety and transportation issues surrounding e-bikes.
Health and Environment
Portland State research explores the decisions we make regarding transportation and land use and how those decisions affect our health and the environment. Our transportation system is a major source of emissions that affect air quality, particularly in metropolitan areas. However, transportation can also be a key component in maintaining or improving our physical health.
Topics include emissions from various vehicle engine types in various scenarios. We examine the environmental effects of our transportation infrastructure, including the effects on wildlife. We also detail the efforts of transportation agencies to adapt to a changing climate with increased floods and other environmental factors.
The strength of a transportation system depends largely on the condition of its infrastructure, from the smallest footpath to the largest freeway. Our research focuses on key components that support multimodal transportation.
Bridges serve a crucial role in transportation systems, carrying traffic over otherwise impassible features. Considering that value, it's doubly important that bridges stand up to earthquakes, especially considering that quakes will disrupt so much else of the built environment. Portland State's infraStructure Testing and Applied Resarch, or iSTAR, Laboratory, tests the resiliency of engineered structures and their materials by reproducing the shaking of real earthquakes.
With vehicle technology improving over the years, it’s tempting to think of safety as a problem that will solve itself. As more people on more forms of transportation use our roads, however, it’s clear that safety needs a closer look. For cyclists, pedestrians and transit users, a safer automobile isn’t necessarily safer for them. A transportation system that serves many types of users faces different conflicts than one that only serves drivers. Those conflicts stand to increase as people switch forms of transportation.
With leadership from TREC, Portland State research finds ways to improve safety for all road users. That means working to make the roads themselves safer, from the lanes to the intersections to the signals. It means finding the safest ways for people to operate buses, cars and bicycles. And it means using the wealth of data we collect from to help people across the country look closer at their transportation systems to find ways to improve.
Intelligent Transportation Systems
Intelligent transportation systems, or ITS, hold the promise of making our roadways safer and better managed while improving performance. Our ITS efforts focus on the integration and improvement of all modes: highway, transit, bicycle, pedestrian and freight. ITS enables people and goods to move more safely and efficiently through a state-of-the-art, intermodal transportation system.
Our research explores effects far beyond transportation operations, such as energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, our unparalleled archive of transportation data, PORTAL, compiles volume and speed observations, signal and phase time information from 400 traffic signals, weather information, incident dispatch logs, variable message signs logs, stop-level transit activity and actuated pedestrian signal data.
Planning and Economics
Transportation planning enables the efficient movement of people and goods. Our research examines the choices we make to plan, fund and implement a transportation system that serves livable communities today and for future generations.
Planning for sustainable transportation also means creating systems that allow people to grow older without becoming dependent on the automobile. Because we use our cities as a living laboratory, we rely on applied economic research to analyze transportation and land-use decisions in a real-world setting.
Public transit systems hold promise for serving urban areas safely and efficiently. Yet challenges within transit districts and from outside factors make that service inherently difficult. TREC’s leadership in transit research has placed Portland State among the nation’s authorities in solving these problems. Our research has given insight to transit agencies on planning, operations and safety. And we look at the mixed-use developments designed with access to transit in mind.
Our research focuses on the traffic and roadway design that affect transit planning along with operations issues such as keeping vehicles on time and evenly spaced, placing stops where they best serve goals, and scheduling drivers to promote safety and efficiency. It also includes determining which routes best meet community and agency goals and gaining a better understanding of transit users.