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Even with uncertainty clouding the future of university transportation research, more than 150 people from around the country showed their dedication to providing the most useful transportation research at the Council of University Transportation Centers2011 summer meeting. OTREC hosted the conference June 13-15 at Portland State University.

University transportation researchers and staff, along with federal and state transportation officials, convened for three days of work sessions, meetings and exploring. OTREC-organized tours gave a Portland flavor to the proceedings, letting visitors explore the city by every available transportation mode. The 4T trail took participants on a light-rail train, a trail, an aerial tram and a streetcar (or trolley). The bike tour showed off the bicycle infrastructure that is making Portland nationally known. An architecture walking tour highlighted downtown Portland’s buildings and parks. And the food-and-beer tour explored the city’s burgeoning food-cart scene and copious microbreweries.

For many people, the conference provided the...

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Even as complex visual representations of data become common, many people still don’t understand what land-use and transportation modelers do. In April, state and local planning directors met to address that and other issues they’ll increasingly face in the coming years. The Oregon Modeling Collaborative convened the Oregon Transportation Policy Forum for guidance in developing the tools agencies will need and to keep agencies talking about transportation issues.

Giving a complex topic such as global warming the video game treatment could make it easier to grasp, said Angus Duncan of the Oregon Global Warming Commission. “I have yearned for something that’s the greenhouse gas equivalent of a ‘Sim City,’ “ Duncan said at the forum. “Something simple enough that kids can play with it, but something you can use for communication.”

Developers have gotten much better at representing data, said Tom Schwetz, director of development services for Lane Transit District, but leaps in handheld devices such as iPhones have raised expectations still higher. Transportation models are getting more complex and, at the same time, people are demanding their information quicker and quicker.

Modelers struggle, Schwetz said, both because people don’t understand the complexity of the models and because modelers themselves don’t explain themselves clearly. The models then become easier to attack than to defend. “There is a credibility issue,” he said. “It’s too easy to...

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Oregon governors have had transportation advisers before. Lynn Peterson wants to be something different.

Peterson, an OTREC advisory board member and former Clackamas Board of County Commissioners chairwoman, joined Gov. John Kitzhaber’s administration in March as sustainable communities and transportation policy adviser.

“I’ve always been a transportation advocate,” Peterson said. “But we talked about the need to integrate transportation with housing and economic development and land use.

“By adding ‘sustainable communities’ to transportation adviser, we were basically saying, ‘Listen: as we move through the transportation discussion, we need to consider the health component, the housing component, the overlaps in other areas.’ “

Peterson brings a broad transportation policy background, having earned graduate degrees in both planning and engineering from Portland State University. She worked in transportation planning for both Metro and TriMet, as a transportation advocate for 1000 Friends of Oregon, and also served on the Lake Oswego City Council.

Peterson said she didn’t hesitate to step into a role that places her in the center of potentially contentious projects or between the...

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It’s a common occurrence: a digital signboard over the freeway tells you to expect a 15-minute trip, but traffic clears and you arrive in 10 minutes. Or, worse, you hit a clog and arrive in 30 minutes.

Sometimes those signboards, called dynamic message signs, are way off, Portland State University researcher Kristin Tufte found. But sometimes that doesn’t matter.

Tufte examined the signboards, called dynamic message signs, along Portland-area freeways in an OTREC project. Drivers typically reach their destinations earlier or later than the signs told them to expect when a so-called “shock wave” forms or dissipates; that is, when traffic suddenly bunches or clears up.

Currently, only three of the 30 or so message signs in the Portland metro area display travel times. Detectors at freeway onramps feed those signs. As a result, large swaths of freeway without onramps also have no data. To be most useful, new message signs would require more detectors in certain areas.

Take the busy Marquam Bridge in Portland, where busy freeways merge and there is no signboard. “There’s no detection for the whole length of the bridge,” Tufte said. “If you really want to have accurate travel times, you have to have detection there.”

As expected, Tufte found that traffic bunching or clearing in blind zones can throw off the accuracy of travel times displayed. Surprisingly, that inaccurate information is often good enough...

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Despite some major strides in safety on Portland’s streets, the city has a lot of work remaining to make the city safe for all forms of transportation. At the fifth Transportation Safety Summit, held Feb. 8 at Marshall High School in southeast Portland, speakers stressed the importance of a multipronged approach to safety.

Sponsored by the Portland Bureau of Transportation, or PBOT, the summit also featured speakers from the Portland Police Bureau, the Oregon Department of Transportation, TriMet and Mayor Sam Adams.

Tom Miller, the incoming PBOT director, and Susan Keil, the outgoing director, said the bureau is focusing safety efforts on 10 high-crash corridors. Improving safety there will require an approach they called the “Three E’s”: engineering, education and enforcement. That is, transportation systems have to be designed for all users’ safety, the users need to know how to navigate the systems and mechanisms must be put in place to make sure people follow the rules. The city will issue annual performance reports to assess the safety of trouble spots.

According to PBOT records, citywide traffic fatalities dropped in 2010, compared to 2009. This reflects an overall trend toward fewer traffic fatalities over the last 15 years.

One worrisome point is the increase in pedestrian fatalities. The number of people killed while walking rose for the second straight year, to 15 in 2010. That’s more than the combined number of motorists, motorcyclists...

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Oregon State University student Lacy Brown's presentation won top honors at the Oregon Transportation Safety Conference, held Oct. 12 to 14 in Salem. Brown's presentation was titled "Assessment of Statewide Intersection Safety Performance," an Oregon Department of Transportation Resesarch-sponsored project.

Kristie Gladhill of Portland State University and Jon Mueller and Raul Avelar, both of Oregon State, also presented at the conference, which is put on by the Alliance for Community Traffic Safety Oregon.

Presentations lasted around 20 minutes and were judged on three criteria: process, product and presentation:

  • Process: The research project is rigorous, with good data and solid analysis.
  • Product: The student's findings will be valuable for the profession.
  • Presentation: The student communicated the information clearly and professionally.

OTREC provided each student with $200 for travel and will award Brown $350 for her winning presentation.

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