Rethinking transportation choices for health communities
Walk, bike, bus, or drive? Professor Kelly Clifton studies how the design of cities affects daily transportation decisions and access to work, food, and leisure. As professor of civil and environmental engineering, she works alongside her students to survey community members about transit options, directly informing local transportation planning with an ultimate goal of promoting vibrant, healthy communities.
WHETHER IN URBAN OR RURAL AREAS, people rely daily on their community’s transportation infrastructure. From walking and biking, to driving and mass transit, civil and environmental engineering professor Kelly Clifton, a fellow of the PSU Institute for Sustainable Solutions, studies how and why people make their daily transportation decisions.
Collaborating with the City of Portland and Oregon Department of Transportation, Clifton works alongside her students to gather information from community members about how people arrive at local destinations, such as corner stores, cafes, and supermarkets. The data gathered in the field helps predict how updated infrastructure could improve local communities, directly informing city and state transportation planning.
Clifton sees an added benefit from collecting data through participatory surveys: “Having students interact with community members face-to-face encourages them to consider where their data comes from, and it helps them understand the link between quantitative and qualitative data.”
Striving to create more livable communities while tracking progress toward carbon reduction goals, much of Clifton’s research focuses on developing infrastructure that encourages walking and biking as primary modes of transportation. She is currently working with Portland Metro to integrate pedestrian traffic into infrastructure planning, a mode of transportation that is often left out of the planning process. But Clifton is finding that a surprising number of people walk to neighborhood establishments, even in places where the roads don’t safely accommodate pedestrians.
Clifton has also identified a link between transportation options and consumer behavior. While pedestrians, bikers, and public transit riders tend to make smaller purchases because of carrying capacity, they also tend to frequent the same establishments more often. Understanding these behavior patterns has a two-fold effect—it helps local businesses better relate to customer needs, and also promotes the development of more sustainable, healthy communities.
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