Hands-on Activity: Mass Transit Living Lab: Establish the Design Criteria

Contributed by: Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, Colorado School of Mines

Photo shows a man with a backpack and bicycle waiting at a light rail train station.
Students take a closer look at mass transit
Copyright © U.S. Environmental Protection Agency http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/awards/sg_awards_publication_2012.htm


Students are introduced to the concept of design criteria. Specifically, they determine what functionality the trains on the west corridor must meet to satisfy customer and owner needs. Students discuss what criteria need to be met and use the Mass Transit Living Lab—a web portal to interactive train traffic data for a major metropolitan city.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Transportation engineers are responsible for designing and operating the transit systems that deliver people and goods, including rail, highways and roads, and air traffic. Transportation engineers aim to design efficient systems that move people and goods quickly, safely and cost-effectively. Students become fully immersed in transportation engineering during this activity.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Explain the concept of design criteria.
  • List design criteria for transit service.

More Curriculum Like This

Mass Transit Living Lab: Improving West Corridor Design

Students evaluate whether a particular section of a transit system is functioning in an efficient manner and whether it is meeting design requirements. Then, they suggest design improvements and evaluate whether the changes make positive impacts on the transit system performance.

Mass Transit Living Lab: Improve the System

Students go through the process of identifying possible solutions to the design problems that the existing west corridor transit system faces. Students combine what they have learned from the three previous activities to come up with possible solutions to the design problems faced by the system.

Mass Transit Living Lab: Analyze the Data

Students go through the logical process of quantitatively analyzing real-world transit data. They gain experience identifying problems with the current design based upon their earlier observations and experiences in activities 1 and 2.

Basic Stamp Project: Design & Build LED Traffic Lights

Students learn about traffic lights and their importance in maintaining public safety and order. Using a Parallax® Basic Stamp 2 microcontroller, students work in teams on the engineering challenge to build a traffic light with a specific behavior. In the process, they learn about light-emitting dio...

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering. (Grades 9 - 12) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

    This standard focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
    Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
    Design a solution to a complex real-world problem, based on scientific knowledge, student-generated sources of evidence, prioritized criteria, and tradeoff considerations.Criteria may need to be broken down into simpler ones that can be approached systematically, and decisions about the priority of certain criteria over others (trade-offs) may be needed.
  • Identify criteria and constraints and determine how these will affect the design process. (Grades 9 - 12) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Solve linear equations in one variable. (Grade 8) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Use units as a way to understand problems and to guide the solution of multi-step problems. (Grades 9 - 12) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Use information and communication technology tools to gather information from credible sources, analyze findings, and draw conclusions to create and justify an evidence-based scientific explanation (Grade 7) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

Students each need a worksheet and pencil.

teams each need a computer with Internet access.


How do you know if something is successful? In order to evaluate and possibly improve transit performance, engineers need to know what is considered "good performance" and what is considered "bad performance" or "unacceptable performance." Understanding design criteria enables you to determine whether the west corridor is operating the best it can to meet the system's expectations.


  1. Go to http://www.teachengineering.org/livinglabs/index.php > and click to enter the Mass Transit Living Lab to reach the main page of the Mass Transit Living Lab website (see Figure 1)
    Screen capture image of the main Mass Transit Living Lab page.
    Figure 1. The main page of the Mass Transit Living Lab website
  2. Distribute to students the Establish the Design Criteria Worksheet (for activity 1).
  3. Present the Introduction/Motivation content to students.
  4. Divide the class into teams of three or four students each.
  5. Ask students to work through the worksheet questions.
  6. As a class, discuss the answers agreed upon by the individual groups. Then reach consensus on the design criteria.

TIP: In engineering challenges, more than one right answer exists, so encourage different answers. The important learning aspect is the discussions that different answers generate in the class.

TIP: While you can have each team move forward after this activity with its own design criteria, we recommend that you reach a consensus on one set of criteria that the entire class will use. This permits more meaningful class discussions during the later activities.

Worksheets and Attachments


Grade the completed worksheets, reviewing student answers to gauge their comprehension of the concepts.

Other Related Information

This activity is designed around the Mass Transit Living Lab, a real-time simulation of FasTracks—a real, high-speed rail transit system in the Denver, CO, metropolitan area, as an example for analyzing data about how a light rail system works.


Mike Mooney; Stuart Fehr


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2005 Colorado School of Mines

Supporting Program

Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, Colorado School of Mines


This curriculum was created with support from the National Science Foundation. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: May 25, 2017