Principal Investigators: John MacArthur, Portland State University; and Christopher Cherry, University of Tennessee
Learn more about this education project by viewing the Executive Summary and the full Final Report on the Project Overview page.

If more drivers switched seats to a bicycle, there would be immediate and tangible benefits on the road. Widespread adoption of bike commuting could improve public health through increased physical activity and reduced carbon emissions, as well as ease the burden on congested roads. However different lifestyle demands, physical ableness, and varied topography create an unequal playing field that prevents many from replacing their car trips.

Electric bicycles (e-bikes) are a relatively new mode of transportation that could bridge this gap. If substituted for car use, e-bikes could substantially improve efficiency in the transportation system while creating a more inclusive biking culture for people of all ages and abilities.

A newly published NITC study by John MacArthur of...

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Evaluation of Electric Bike Use at Three Kaiser Permanente NW Employment Centers in Portland Metro Region
John MacArthur, Portland State University; Jennifer Dill, Portland State University

Despite efforts to get more people biking, North America still has low ridership numbers. The problem? Biking is hard.

A new report by John MacArthur of Portland State University's Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC), funded by the National Institute for Transportation and Communtiies, offers a solution to that problem: e-bikes. 

Many people surveyed say that having to pedal up hills and arriving at their destination sweaty are major deterrents to commuting by bike, even when bike lanes and other facilities are there.

Researchers have put a lot of thought into ways to get more people riding bicycles by improving bicycle infrastructure, land use and public engagement. The efforts are largely due to concerns about congestion, climate change and public health. Comparatively little research, however, has focused on the bicycle itself.

MacArthur and co-investigator...

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In 2009, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed the Copenhagen Wheel, a device that converts an ordinary bicycle into a hybrid e-bike.

An e-bike is considered a motorized bicycle under Massachusetts law. This means that once the 13-pound, 26-inch Copenhagen Wheel is attached to the rear wheel of a bicycle, the resulting vehicle requires a driver’s license to operate, must be registered with the DMV, and its rider must wear, not just a bike helmet, but a motorcycle helmet to be in compliance with the law.

Electric bicycles, or e-bikes, are well established in China and other Asian and European countries but market adoption has been slow in the United States.

Part of the reason could be that the law is often nebulous where e-bikes are concerned.

NITC researchers at Portland State University conducted a policy review revealing the current state of legislation regarding e-bikes in the United States and Canada.

The report, Regulations of E-Bikes in North America, provides a summary of legal definitions and requirements surrounding the use of electric-assist bicycles in each of the 50 states, Washington D.C. and 13 Canadian provinces.

No two jurisdictions are exactly alike in their legal treatment of this relatively new mode...

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With the emergence of electric vehicles (EVs) as an environmentally friendly alternative to the internal combustion engine, OTREC researcher Robert Bass decided to investigate some of the uncharted effects of their growing prevalence.

Bass is interested in measuring and understanding the impacts that electric vehicle charging stations have on their cities’ power distribution systems.

Electric Avenue, located on the Portland State University campus where Bass is an associate professor, is the perfect research opportunity: a row of EV charging stations along Southwest Montgomery Street, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue in downtown Portland, Ore.

Launched in August 2011 as a joint project by Portland General Electric, PSU and the City of Portland, Electric Avenue is intended as a research platform for understanding the impact EVs have within the larger context of the city.

Nonlinear loads such as EV chargers can introduce power quality issues to a city’s electricity distribution system. Bass, with PSU undergraduate student Nicole Zimmerman, set out to measure the power quality effects of EV chargers along Electric Avenue.

Power quality manifests in several ways; for this study, the researchers focused on...

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OTREC researchers and students from the Oregon Institute of Technology have teamed up with Green Lite Motors to test a next-generation hybrid car.

Green Lite Motors, a clean-tech start-up company based in Portland, Ore., has developed a small, three-wheeled, gas-electric hybrid vehicle based on the platform of a Suzuki Burgman scooter.

The vehicle is classed as a motorcycle, and has all the advantages of the smaller vehicle — it doesn’t take up a whole parking space, and it gives off fewer emissions — but it also has an advanced roll-cage design, giving it the safety and comfort of a standard passenger car. It has two wheels in the front, one in the back, and mileage possibilities greater than 100 miles per gallon.

The target market areas for this two-passenger vehicle are urban commute zones, where large numbers of people travel daily from suburban homes to city-based professions. 

The tiny hybrid car could change the commuting experience, minimizing gas expenditure and cutting down the time people spend looking for parking.

Green Lite has developed two prototypes.

The first...

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OTREC research associate John MacArthur, in partnership with Drive Oregon, has been awarded a grant from Metro.

The grant is part of a $2.1 million effort by Metro to improve air quality and community health.

With the Metro grant, Drive Oregon and MacArthur plan to conduct a study of consumer perception and use of electric bicycles, pedal-bikes that provide extra propulsion from a rechargeable battery.

The idea is to see whether having the use of an e-bike will persuade non-bicycle-commuters to use a bike for the “first and last mile” of their daily commute; for example, to get from their workplace to the nearest MAX light rail station.

The e-bikes provided in the study will be foldable for convenient carrying onto the train. Ultimately, the partners of this study hope to increase the percentage of people who commute by bicycle and light rail, thus contributing to overall community health by reducing automobile emissions.

30 e-bikes will be loaned to 180 employees of Kaiser Permanente, at three designated work locations. Each participant will have the free use of an e-bike for one month, bookended by surveys about their expectations and perceptions of the experience.

MacArthur is conducting some overlapping research into e-bike use in a related OTREC...

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The USDOT’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) 7thAnnual UTC Spotlight Conference on Sustainable Energy and Transportation: Strategies, Research, and Data was held on November 8-9 in Washington, DC and featured OTREC energy related research from Portland State University and Oregon State University. This year’s conference focused on promoting dialogue and coordination among University Transportation Centers (UTCs), federal agencies, industry, and state and local agencies on research to address the complex and challenging issues concerning sustainable energy and transportation. The plenary and breakout sessions focused on research to improve energy efficiency, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and identify of effective strategies to promote USDOT's strategic goals. As the U.S. moves toward a performance-based transportation bill, energy-focused environmental sustainability is expected to become one of the pillars against which success is measured if it is to become a national priority.

Dr. B. Starr McMullen, Oregon State University, took part on a plenary panel discussion on the interconnection of energy use, pricing and finance and highlighted two OTREC funded projects The Relationship Between VMT and Economic Activity and...

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Widespread adoption of electric vehicles won’t happen without convenient charging points. But who should provide charging stations? Where should they be located? And how should they be set up?

Those are a few of the questions addressed in an OTREC report on the unique charging-station hub known as Electric Avenue. A block-long bank of chargers on the Portland State University campus, Electric Avenue provides an ideal test site for those seeking to prepare the way for electric vehicles.

Electric Avenue opened in August 2011 with eight parking spaces where vehicle owners can use a variety of chargers for free, paying only the cost of parking. Some chargers can recharge a battery in 30 minutes and others require hours per charge.

As the first installation of its kind, Electric Avenue illuminated both the promise and the difficulties electric vehicles represent. The report concluded that similar projects would be viable elsewhere, especially if planners and policy makers learn from the Electric Avenue experience, including:

  • With lead partners Portland State University, the city of Portland and utility Portland General Electric, Electric Avenue had the leadership to steer the project through the inevitable obstacles. A clear understanding of roles and responsibilities helps partners deal with unexpected costs and other challenges.
  • ...
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When U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon set off on his all-electric drive across the state July 2, his first stop was Electric Avenue, the block-long charging station at Portland State University. Merkley plugged in his car to one of the Electric Avenue charging stations and addressed the crowd gathered on the plaza nearby.

Merkley’s Oil-Free Across Oregon trip is taking him from the Washington border to the California border, “the Columbia to the Redwoods,” he said. Without the recent investments in charging stations along the Interstate 5 corridor, the gaps between chargers would have made an all-electric journey difficult.

“I couldn’t have taken this trip a year ago,” Merkley said. Portland Mayor Sam Adams and Portland State President Wim Wiewel joined Merkley for remarks.

The trip follows the West Coast Electric Highway, a network of DC fast charging stations along I-5. The public charging stations, spaced 25 to 60 miles apart, allow a driver to charge up in 30 minutes or less. OTREC's Transportation Electrification Initiative is guiding the state of Oregon's electric vehicle plan and evaluating the DC fast-charge stations and user behavior to shape future investments.

Merkley is stopping in Salem, Halsey and Springfield on Monday and Roseburg, Canyonville...

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OTREC has teamed up with Portland-based Green Lite Motors to bring a 100 mile-per-gallon vehicle closer to market. OTREC researchers at the Oregon Institute of Technology will evaluate and improve the performance of the two-seat vehicle.

The project grows out of a commercialization grant from the Oregon Built Environment & Sustainable Technologies Center, or Oregon BEST. Oregon Tech researchers built a prototype model for Green Lite Motors under that grant.

"This is going to take it from a completed prototype to a refined drive system,” said Tim Miller, president and CEO of Green Lite Motors. “They’ll test the performance and efficiency of the hybrid drive system and we’ll be able to refine the software and other things that control the system and optimize its performance.”

The Oregon Tech team built a three-wheeled prototype vehicle based on the Suzuki Burgman 650 scooter platform. “It combines the best of several things,” Miller said. “You get the full enclosure and safety you have in a car but with the nimbleness and ease of parking of a motorcycle.”

Although researchers can adapt some of the auto industry’s testing methods, others don’t apply very well for such an unusual vehicle, said Oregon Tech Associate Professor James Long, the project’s principal investigator. “There aren’t many vehicles out there of this type, so we’ll be...

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