Communicating Research through Comics: Transportation and Land Development

Kelly Clifton, Portland State University



This project created a transportation comic, "Moving From Cars To People," which offers a succinct and fun introduction to a complicated topic: namely, how the built environment in the United States came to be designed for cars and what we can do about it.

The comic includes a dialogue, taking place in various urban settings, between characters Kelly and Kristi who are based on the two principal investigators, Kelly Clifton and Kristina Currans. The two have a long history of collaboration around the data, methods, and processes used to plan for multimodal transportation impacts of new development. This short graphic synopsis is an engaging, approachable way for anyone – no matter their level of expertise in this topic – to learn about their findings.

Illustrated by PSU Master of Fine Arts student Joaquin Golez, the comic was authored by Clifton and Currans and developed in conjunction with Susan Kirtley, director of the Comic Studies Program at Portland State University (PSU), and Portland, OR-based illustrator Ryan Alexander-Tanner, who has worked on academic comics before and drew on his experience to help guide the collaborative process. A Spanish-language version was created with the assistance of Urban Studies PhD student Gabriel Quiñones-Zambrana.

Why communicate research results in a graphic format? First, to reach a broader audience. It's in everyone's interest for non-transportation-professionals to have a working knowledge of the conversation that's happening around sustainable transportation options. When important policy questions show up on a ballot – for example, whether businesses should be required to provide a certain amount of parking spaces, or whether the state should subsidize public transit – people who aren't in the transportation industry might not be fully aware of the tradeoffs involved in these questions. 

NITC researchers have approached context-sensitive travel modeling from several angles. For example, Reid Ewing of the University of Utah developed some key enhancements to the classic four-step travel demand model, as well as examining trip and parking generation at transit-oriented developments. Clifton and Currans first worked together at Portland State University when Clifton was Currans' advisor for her 2016 doctoral dissertation examining data and methodological issues in assessing multimodal transportation impacts for urban development. Both separately and in collaboration with other NITC researchers, Clifton (now a professor at the University of British Columbia) and Currans (a professor at the University of Arizona) have conducted over a decade of research into contextual trip generation: a body of work that reevaluates our whole system of travel demand forecasting. The goal is to improve travel demand forecasting so that it more accurately reflects the travel behavior of people walking, biking and riding transit. Read more:

Project Details

Project Type:
Technology Transfer
Project Status:
End Date:
December 15,2022
UTC Grant Cycle:
NITC 16 Translate Research to Practice
UTC Funding: