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Q & A: Why Do the Western Bus Lines Terminate Where They Do?

The 79th Street bus terminal, located on the site of a former streetcar terminal. Image: Google Maps


Why do the various #49 CTA and Pace Western Avenue buses (49 Western,X49 Western Express, 49B North Western, 349 South Western) terminate where they do? The overlap between Lawrence and Berwyn is especially mystifying. -P.C.

Here's a rundown of where these four buses go:

    • 49 Western: Runs along Western from 79th Street, where there's a bus turnaround, to Berwyn (5300 North), where there's another turnaround
    • X49 Western Express: Same as the #49, with limited stops during weekday rush hours
    • 49B North Western: Runs along Western from Leland (4700 North, by the Brown Line's Western station, where there's a bus turnaround) to Howard (7600 North)
    • 349 South Western: This Pace route runs between the 79th/Western turnaround and the Pace Harvey Transportation Center, located at 901 West 153rd, just north of the local Metra Electric station
The CTA's #49B (purple), #X49 Western (blue), and #49 Western (red) bus lines, and Pace's #349 South Western line (green.) Image: Google Maps

So, yes, there are six blocks of overlap between the #49, the #X49, and the #49B between Leland and Berwyn, which begs the question, why not have the northern terminus for the first two lines at Leland, or else have the southern terminus for the North Western line at Berwyn?

"The current structure of the Western Avenue routes is designed to provide the most efficient service, as well as convenient connections for riders," said CTA spokesman Jon Kaplan. "Interestingly, the routes are rooted in the early Twentieth Century streetcar network, and many of their attributes still provide benefits today."

For example, Kaplan said, in 1948, streetcar lines were cut back via Western to the Berwyn terminal on the North side. The #49B terminal was established at Western/Leland with the intention of feeding the Ravenswood branch of today’s Brown Line. "Currently, more than 1,000 #49B riders transfer to the Western Brown Line station every weekday," he said.

Kaplan added that there's limited bus capacity at the Western Brown Line terminal, which serves the #11 Lincoln Avenue bus as well as the #49B. "There is not enough capacity for the #49 and #X49 to be able to turn around. Terminating the #49 and the #X49 at the Berwyn/Western facility allows buses to turn around and also provides connections to east-west routes north of Lawrence, without extending the routes too far beyond their 15+ mile length."

Screen Shot 2019-06-01 at 6.39.27 PM
The Berwyn/Western bus turnaround. Image: Google Maps
The Berwyn/Western bus turnaround. Image: Google Maps

Currently, about 300 #49/X49 riders transfer to east west bus routes between Leland and Berwyn every weekday, Kaplan said. "Further extensions of the #49/X49 would have negative impacts on reliability," he argued. "The combined #49 route structure is very well-used. This high concentration of ridership benefits from the high service levels that result from the overlapping service along this segment."

Kaplan says that like the Berwyn bus turnaround, the 79th Street facility sits on land that previously held a streetcar terminal. "The #49 and #49A, which went south from 79th to Western/135th, used to share the 79th terminal, until the #49A was discontinued in 2012. This terminal continues to make sense based on ridership demand, land use and population density for route #49/X49."

He noted that land use becomes more suburban in nature south of 79th, and the population density drops off significantly.  "Terminating a heavy route like #49/X49 at such a location allows CTA to efficiently tailor service to demand."

This post is made possible by a grant from the Illinois Bicycle Lawyers at Keating Law Offices, P.C., a Chicago, Illinois law firm committed to representing pedestrians and cyclists. The content is Streetsblog Chicago's own, and Keating Law Offices neither endorses the content nor exercises any editorial control.

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