Lesson: Mass Transit Living Lab: Improving West Corridor Design

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

Photo shows two electric light-rail trains at a station, with the skyscrapers of the Denver skyline in the background.
Exploring the transit system
copyright
Copyright © NOAA http://www.climate.gov/decision-support/reports-and-resources/transportations-role-reducing-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions

Summary

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. Throughout this lesson, students work with real-world data, prepare and interpret graphs, analyze various scenarios, and develop creative solutions to existing problems. This lesson uses the Mass Transit Living Lab, a web portal to interactive train (transit) traffic data for a major metropolitan city, so students need access to computers and the Internet to complete the work.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Transportation engineers are responsible for designing and operating the 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. During the lesson, students become fully immersed in transportation engineering.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Suggest design improvements and evaluate whether the changes make positive impacts on the transit system performance.
  • Evaluate whether a particular section of a transit system is functioning in an efficient manner and whether it is meeting design requirements. 
  • Work with real-world data, prepare and interpret graphs, analyze various scenarios, and develop creative solutions to existing problems.

More Curriculum Like This

Mass Transit Living Lab: Establish the Design Criteria

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 trai...

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: Graphing the West Corridor Data

Students are introduced to graphical analysis of data to analyze flaws in a transit system's design. They evaluate factors such as ride time, wait time and percentage of train capacity.

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.

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.

  • Use a computer simulation to model the impact of proposed solutions to a complex real-world problem with numerous criteria and constraints on interactions within and between systems relevant to the problem. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Optimization is an ongoing process or methodology of designing or making a product and is dependent on criteria and constraints. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Quality control is a planned process to ensure that a product, service, or system meets established criteria. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Requirements of a design, such as criteria, constraints, and efficiency, sometimes compete with each other. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Use ratio reasoning to convert measurement units. (Grade 6) Details... View more 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) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Functions model situations where one quantity determines another and can be represented algebraically, graphically, and using tables. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Graph linear and quadratic functions and show intercepts, maxima, and minima. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Visual displays and summary statistics condense the information in data sets into usable knowledge. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more 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) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Introduction/Motivation

The west corridor of the Mass Transit Living Lab citywide transit system may not be operating as effectively as it could be. Passengers want to be reassured that taking the train to work is better for them than driving their cars.

Conversely, the owners of Mass Transit Living Lab (the city) want to be sure that the trains are providing the required passenger service in a cost-effective manner.

The city wants to hire you to work as engineering teams to assess the west corridor and determine if it is meeting design requirements. And if not, the city wants your teams to suggest and test some improvements to fix the system.

(As an introductory activity, have students brainstorm ideas. Ask students these questions.)

  • What do you know about flow rates?
  • What are examples of everyday situations in which it would be important to understand flow rate?

Lesson Background and Concepts for Teachers

Design Criteria: Whenever engineers are hired to develop new products (such as voice recognition software), design and build new structures (such as the Chunnel) or improve the day-to-day operations of organizations or processes (such as the flow of people at DisneyWorld), the first thing they do is determine the criteria for a successful design.

FasTracks Living Lab: Teachers need to have a fair working knowledge of the Mass Transit Living Lab (http://www.teachengineering.org/livinglabs/fastracks/) before implementing this lesson in the classroom. The brief online user's guide helps to provide a better understanding of the Lab; however, the best way to learn is just to poke around! We recommended that you work through this lesson and its activities before implementing them in your class.

Associated Activities

Lesson Closure

A great way to end this lesson is to have a class discussion about 1) what was wrong with the west corridor operation, and 2) the various recommendations of the different teams. It is beneficial to have peer-review and constructive criticism of student work - it is instant feedback and from a source other than the teacher.

Assessment

Grade the intermediate homework, final presentations or final reports. In addition, give students a scenario in which traffic demand increases substantially (such as before or after a Sunday downtown football game) and ask them to design changes to the system.

Lesson Extension Activities

The extensions are limitless. Have students perform similar analyses for other trains, stations and routes.

Other Related Information

This lesson 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.

Contributors

Mike Mooney; Stuart Fehr

Copyright

© 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

Acknowledgements

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: June 7, 2017

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