In the aftermath of World War II and years of fuel rationing, America was on the move. People were buying cars, the population was shifting from urban to suburban, trucks were becoming a more common way to transport goods, and air travel was on the rise. Yet the highways and runways to accommodate these changes, and the trained professionals to plan and design them, were lacking. California’s economy and populace were rapidly expanding, and the war had left the state’s roads with years of deferred maintenance.
In response to the lack of transportation investment during the war years, the state legislature approved Senate Bill 1423 in 1947 to establish the Institute of Transportation and Traffic Engineering at the University of California, now known as the UC Berkeley Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS). With a starting budget of $710,000, UC Berkeley President Robert Sproul asked Harmer E. Davis, a Berkeley professor of civil engineering and well-known transportation policy expert, to establish the new organization, the first of its kind to address the interdisciplinary nature of transportation. This then-novel approach still frames ITS’s philosophy of recognizing the complex interplay of disciplines — including engineering, the physical sciences, social sciences, and humanities — in addressing transportation problems and solutions.
The fledgling teaching and research institute offered a robust academic program that included undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs, eventually focusing on graduate programs. From the beginning, the Institute has maintained close ties with the California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, and over the years has trained many engineers who went on to work for the state.
From its inception, the Institute has transformed transportation in California, the country, and the world. The early years of expanding the state’s transportation network introduced advancements in lighting, skid-resistant pavement, runway design, accident-reducing signage, and vehicle safety. In the 1960s, the national highway program adopted the results from these California safety studies.
The late 20th century saw a waning of new road building and a growth of congestion, changing the 21st century focus to using innovative, technological solutions to make transportation smarter and broaden mobility options. Today, ITS leads research advancements in alternative fuel vehicles, wireless networking, automated vehicles, computer science, urban data analysis, and geolocation to produce such innovations as real-time traffic monitoring, autonomous vehicles, intermodal coordination, and connected corridors to relieve congestion, increase safety, bring economic vitality to urban centers, and sustainably enhance mobility. Our faculty, researchers, and students are active in research that frames government policy, analyzes human behavior, and addresses infrastructure.
Our alumni work around the world in industry, academia, and the public sector, contributing to the economies of California and the United States and leading the broad field of transportation across the globe.