Urban Transit Systems Enhance City Livability

February 13, 2021
By Courtney Perales

What future do we envision for our cities? How can streets, arterials, bus and rail transit, and pedestrian areas work together to make cities more enjoyable?  

These are questions that Professor Vukan Vuchic has spent the past 60 years thinking about, researching, and designing. Questions that eventually led to the creation of an online edX course, Urban Transit for Livable Cities.  

Traveling across the globe, he lectured and consulted in cities like Munich, Tokyo, Singapore, Oslo, and right here in Philadelphia. In his lectures, Vukan called for a diverse approach to transit systems and described his vision for enhancing livability in cities.  

What is city livability, you might ask? Vukan, himself, actually coined this term in the 1990s. It refers to a city that has adequate travel options, supportive community services, and a resilient economy. Specifically, Vukan imagined a future where livable cities would focus more on the pedestrian experience, erect more parks, promote rail travel, and create more attractive sights and experiences for their residents and guests. 

“Do you want to rush through a city, or do you want to enjoy walking through it, meeting people, and seeing different buildings, streets, and squares?”  

Throughout his career, Vukan connected with city officials, urban planners, and engineers to advise them on their existing city structures and troubleshoot ways they could improve their cities’ transportation systems. His teachings have impacted generations of transportation engineering students as well as many city transit systems. Most notably, he worked with Philadelphia’s transit agency SEPTA to upgrade two separate radial regional rail systems by building the center city connecting tunnel which created an integrated electric rail network serving the entire Philadelphia metropolitan area.  

After an expansive career in public transport, Vukan began exploring other opportunities to share his knowledge and encourage a new generation of planners and engineers to build more efficient transit systems and reduce dependency on private cars creating traffic congestion. These cities wouldn’t just improve street transit and build more rail lines, but they would also discourage the use of cars to actively improve the overall comfort and quality of life for the city’s residents and visitors.  

And just like that, he found his way to the world of online learning.  

Realizing that he could continue pursuing questions around effective urban transit while also connecting with visionary learners, Vukan developed an online course for people who were interested in designing cities that we actually want. He was excited to experiment with remote teaching, have the ability to reach a broader student audience, and create a course that ensured his teachings remained one click away for anyone who was interested. 

Thus, the course Urban Transit for Livable Cities was born.  

A culmination of his life’s work, Urban Transit for Livable Cities allows students to take a crash course in transit planning and policies from the convenience of their own offices, universities, or homes. It provides a blueprint for both seasoned and new learners in transit to access the key city examples, tools, and resources they need in order to create more livable cities.  

Course participants will embark on a unique journey toward understanding how city livability depends on urban transit. While balanced transportation policies are sometimes opposed using the argument that it is too late to implement, Vukan notes that “It is never too late to stop going in the wrong direction.” 

Vukan is proud of the final product. He is hoping that students taking this course will pay more attention to the cities and areas in which they live and propose new policies and plans to create a more livable city. 

If you are interested in learning more about the course, check out this trailer!