Designing Bus Rapid Transit for Light Rail Transit Convertibility: Introduction for Planners and Decision Makers

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

infrastructure - busway, land use - planning, mode - bus, mode - rail, mode - tram/light rail, mode - mass transit, mode - bus rapid transit


Transportation planning, Transit, Structural modifications, Seattle (Washington), Public transit, Mass transit, Local transit, Light rail transit, Design, Decision making, Costs, Conversion, Busways, Bus rapid transit


This paper focuses on considerations that should be included in the design of a busway–bus rapid transit (BRT) facility for future conversion from BRT to light rail transit (LRT). A selection of BRT and LRT projects in North America and overseas were reviewed to assess the current industry practice in relation to BRT conversion to LRT. Most BRT projects reviewed for this study contain some provisions for future conversion to LRT. However, other than the current project to convert the downtown Seattle, Washington, transit tunnel, no known conversions from BRT to LRT have occurred. Design elements that should be considered when the cross section for a project is determined include vehicle type (LRT, bus, guided bus) and the operational configuration (barrier separation, mixing of buses with general-purpose and high-occupancy vehicle traffic, etc.). Finally, the construction activities required for conversion depend on whether the BRT system was designed and constructed to include provisions for LRT. Such activities can involve modification to both the main line and stations. If no provisions for LRT were part of the busway design and construction, the cost of conversion can be significantly higher due to the need for more extreme modification or total reconstruction of structures and other facilities.