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PSU wins $3.5 million DOT grant for transportation research center

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on January 12th, 2012 at 10:52 am

Portland State University announced today that they've been awarded a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to continue work at the federally recognized University Transportation Center — the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium (OTREC) — housed on their campus.

They're also breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Late last fall, the nationally-known research and education program found themselves in an uncomfortable position: They had to re-apply for the USDOT grant that funded almost their entire existence.

"This award reaffirms OTREC’s evolution into one of the nation’s leading transportation livability research centers..."
— OTREC statement

Congress originally set up the UTC programs by a non-competitive process and in this era of such earmarks being politically toxic, lawmakers decided all UTCs across the country should re-apply and compete for the money.

Staff and researchers at OTREC were a bit anxious about the situation; but they also knew they were one of the premier UTCs in the country with a high profile, a very respectable track record and a lot of quality research behind them (not to mention that OTREC's former director, Robert Bertini was selected by the Obama administration back in 2009 to be the deputy administrator of the federal Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA), the agency that administers UTC grants).

In a statement today about the grant, OTREC said, "This award reaffirms OTREC’s evolution into one of the nation’s leading transportation livability research centers and provides the resources to address national problems strategically."

They also unveiled a list of topics that their research and educational programs will focus on:

• Improving health and safety for all users
• Increasing the efficiency and understanding of cycling, walking and transit
• Making the best use of data, performance measures and analytical tools
• Integrating multimodal transportation with land use
• Taking long-term action on transportation emissions and climate change.

Bike researcher Jennifer Dill
OTREC Director Jennifer Dill.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

63 university applied for the grant; but just 22 were awarded. OTREC Director, noted bicycle researcher, and PSU Associate Professor Jennifer Dill said via a statement that,

"In five years, OTREC has advanced the state of research on topics such as the connections between transportation and land use; intelligent transportation systems; and bicycle, pedestrian and transit infrastructure... This award recognizes that work while allowing us to focus deeper on pressing national problems."

You might not recognize OTREC by name but they've been behind some groundbreaking bicycle research since being founded in 2006. Dill, who has a PhD in City and Regional Planning from Berkeley, made headlines with her research into the behavior of bicycle riders. In a study we highlighted back in 2008, she attached GPS units to her participants' bicycles and analyzed how infrastructure impacted where they decided to ride.

OTREC has funded research into the potential for bicycling in suburbia, the air quality of separated bikeways, the effectiveness of Portland's bike boxes, and even the relationship between bicycling and consumer behavior.

Each project funding through this grant must have a one-to-one local match, thus doubling the impact of each federal dollar.

PSU President Wim Wiewel knows how important this is to his school: "I’m thrilled with the new opportunities this grant represents."

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Comments
  • pat h January 12, 2012 at 11:04 am

    Awesome. Good work. I look forward to seeing what they do.

    Jonathan -- I think "study participants" is a better phrase to use here: "attached GPS units to her subjects..."

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  • pkoonce January 12, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    Jonathan- Just a friendly comment to suggest editing your word choice on this. You used the term "handed out" with respect to the grant and having watched colleagues working on the proposal and through their dedication to research, would offer that they earned the grant.

    Thanks for covering a good news story!

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  • joeb January 12, 2012 at 7:29 pm

    Jonathon, BikePortland was a contributing influence to me enrolling in the Executive Masters Of Public Administration at Portland State this year. And now you are providing content and contacts that contribute to my studies. Thank you.

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