Why is riding the Los Angeles Metro such a different experience than public transit in cities like New York and Chicago? Students in the Engineering and Design class—led by Belldegrun Center for Innovative Leadership Fabrication Innovator and Collaborator John Wan—researched this conundrum and proposed solutions to improve the LA Metro experience and entice new ridership.
Guided by the BCIL core leadership skills, each student considered a challenge faced by our city’s metro system and then ideated four different potential solutions to discuss with Mr. Wan. After talking through their various ideas, they narrowed their focus with sketches and an initial prototype for the solution they wanted to develop.
Next came the engineering. Students found real-word dimensions for parts and products that would inspire their design, creating a second, more polished prototype to scale.
I toured through these prototypes in the BCIL Fabrication Lab as Mr. Wan explained each project. As someone who has ridden Metro buses and trains, I found the students' observations quite astute and their ideas delightful. Will B.’25 focused on the effect of light on our mental health, designing a train car with large windows and skylights and a “night mode” setting for the interior lights. Daphne L. ’25 considered upgrades like a stairwell that transforms into a stroller ramp and gender-specific areas to reduce sexual harassment. Those concerned about hygiene could try the motorized seat cover replacement by Blythe B. ’22 or a Herman Miller inspired netting design for the base of the seats by Marco S. ’22 that is easier to sanitize. Thinking also about driver safety, Alexa D. ’23 created a secured glass area complete with a heart rate monitor that sends signals to Metro if the driver becomes distressed or has a heart attack. Bonus: the bus will also slow to a complete stop if the monitor senses an emergency.
These designs are just a few among the great concepts that came from Mr. Wan’s Design and Engineering classroom challenge. I admire our students’ openness to try, fail, try again, and listen to evaluations from their teacher and peers. Once the project wraps, they will start a unit focused on designing within limitations, and at the end of the year they have the opportunity to pick one project out of the four class challenges to develop even further. That means any students who are particularly passionate about their transportation design will hopefully get on the line with LA Metro officials and other stakeholders to further develop their prototype.