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The Transportation Research & Education Center
The Transportation Research & Education Center

By Justin Carinci

Researchers in Oregon have long looked at transportation differently. Where most transportation research focused on highways and cars, we realized that the future would require different choices.

Ten years ago, a transportation center was established at Portland State University with a different view. Researchers and educators at this center would look at how transportation could help build healthy, sustainable communities. The center brought together like-minded researchers from four Oregon universities to find answers to questions like: “how does land use and transportation planning create the kind of places we want to live in”; “how can we get more out of investments we’ve already made in our streets and transit systems”; and “what will it take to make the most sustainable ways of getting around—walking, cycling and transit—also the safest and most convenient?” 

This center, then called OTREC, launched with a $16 million federal grant and designation as a U.S. Department of Transportation national university transportation center. The center provided an increasingly assertive voice for a new approach to transportation.

Portland State and, increasingly, Portland became known for innovation in transportation. The research at the university transportation center helped inform decision-making to allow the region’s vaunted livable communities to thrive.

Over the years, OTREC funded 237 research and education projects, as well as numerous presentations and publications. Eventually, the center expanded beyond the original OTREC grant and rebranded itself as TREC, the Transportation Research and Education Center at Portland State.

This center twice successfully competed for federal research funding and designations. TREC continues to house one of five national university transportation centers, the National Institute for Transportation and Communities program, but now includes an array of other programs in addition.

That shift in scope also aligns the goals of the center with those of Portland State. TREC’s programs span multiple disciplines and approaches, all serving to use transportation to make our community more vibrant and resilient.

TREC builds on PSU’s Center for Transportation Studies, which dates back to 1966. In 2007, with support from the OTREC grant, the Initiative for Bicycle and Pedestrian Innovation, or IBPI, was founded. Now a program of TREC, IBPI offers a full range of professional development activities, such as training workshops, webinars and seminars, to advance use and safety of walking and bicycling.

TREC also houses Portal, a data archive founded in 2001 that makes multimodal transportation data available and accessible to researchers and practitioners. The wealth of data stored provide an incomparable resource for making our transportation system better understood, more efficient and better aligned with our priorities.

As you will see in the following pages, the research portfolio of TREC continues to advance the role of transportation in our community. Our programs focus on, but are not limited to transportation system resiliency, expanding opportunities for walking and bicycling, enhancing safety, creating “smart” transportation systems, data storage, management and computer modeling, economic growth, education, and creating places where we can live, work and play by connecting communities through transit.

As you read this issue of RSP’s Quarterly Review, TREC is again competing for federal support for its largest grant program. After ten years, the center continues to change the face of transportation locally, regionally and nationally. Whatever transportation challenges the future holds, TREC will be here finding answers.