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Chicago, IL: Chicago Transit Authority

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Neighborhood Express Bus Routes

Project Description

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is implementing a Neighborhood Express Bus Route (NEBR) system that will eventually include six routes. The Neighborhood Express Bus Routes operate as an overlay onto the existing CTA route network. These routes stop only at major cross streets, eliminating close to 75% of bus stops associated with local route and increasing average travel speeds by 24% to 25 mph, in the case of the Western Avenue Express route. The NEBR system currently includes the Western Avenue Express (X49) (introduced in December 1998) which operates along Western Avenue between Berwyn Avenue and 95th Street; the Garfield Express (X55), which operates along 55th St./Garfield Boulevard between Midway Airport and the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Irving Park Express (X80), which operates primarily along Irving Park Boulevard between the Metra Mayfair station and the intersection of Diversey and Sheridan. Both the Garfield Express and Irving Park Express were implemented in June 2002.

Planned Project Implementation*







Running Ways




Route Structure

Fare Collection


* As defined by BRT Stages of Development Table

In addition to the limited stop operation, the NEBR service includes a separate marketing program. The program includes simple elements such as specially-designed signs and schedule displays at stops and car-cards displayed on vehicles that display the route and stop locations similar to those placed on rail services. Eventually, the CTA plans to implement additional features such as exclusive lanes, traffic signal priority, faster fare collection, low-floor and clean-fuel buses, traveler information, stop improvements, and bus management system integration (including automatic vehicle location).

CTA Western X49 Express bus route signage

Rail-Like Car-Card Displaying Basic Route and Stop Location as Part of the Marketing Program

Limited-Stop Express Services

In practice, these efforts started in 1998 with the design and launch of the X49 Western Express, a limited-stop express bus service overlaid along the 18-mile Western Avenue corridor. The local #49 follows CTA’s standard 1/8 mile stop spacing pattern. X49 stops are located only at major intersections and transfer points, approximately ½ to 1 mile apart. As a result, travel speeds on the X49 are approximately 25% faster than the local #49. Since the route’s inception, ridership in the corridor has grown by 18%. As of November 2002, average weekday ridership on the X49 was 7,780.

Similarly in 2000, the X21 Cermak Express was initiated on weekends along Cermak Road, an east-west street paralleling the 54th/Cermak branch of CTA’s Blue Line heavy-rail rapid transit (currently being rebuilt and out-of-service on weekends). Since the X21 was initiated, ridership in the Cermak corridor (#21 & X21) has increased 30%. Average weekend (Saturday + Sunday) ridership on the X21 was 2,496 in November, 2002.

CTA X49 Bus Stop

NEBR Services Are Differentiated From the Local Bus Services by Distinct Bus Stop Signs with Red Lettering

More recently, in June 2002, CTA further expanded its X-route concept to encompass two east-west oriented corridors that connect substantial traffic generators and intersect with multiple rail rapid transit (‘L’) lines. Like the X49, these routes, the X55 Garfield and the X80 Irving Park, are service overlays to existing local buses. The X55 transects Chicago’s south side, connecting the Museum of Science and Industry, the University of Chicago and the Hyde Park neighborhood with CTA’s Red and Green ‘L’ lines terminating at the Orange ‘L’ line station at Midway Airport. Similarly, the X80 runs from Lincoln Park at the Lake Michigan shoreline on the east, west past the Red and Blue ‘L’ lines (providing north lakefront and northwest side residents a rail connection to O’Hare airport via the Blue Line O’Hare branch). Ridership in the Garfield corridor over the first 6 months of the X55 service has increased 8%, while that in the Irving Park corridor has increased 5%.

Dedicated Fleet

The CTA has ordered a dedicated fleet of 45-foot-long low-floor composite buses to deploy on its X routes. These vehicles will expand passenger capacity and provide a unique, differentiated brand identity. The CTA expects to receive the first of these vehicles by the end of 2003.

Physical Site Improvements and Amenities

For the X49 Western Express route, the CTA is also pursuing a Transit and Pedestrian Improvements Project. This project will eventually lead to improvements in the pedestrian infrastructure and the integration of more prominent station infrastructure at X49 stops. Currently, prototype designs for each intersection type are being developed in concert with traffic simulation analysis.

The CTA is participating in two regional efforts by the Northeastern Illinois Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) that will also be incorporated into the express route system. A common travel information system called Real-Time Bus Arrival Information System (BusInfo) demonstration program includes the design and construction of an Internet-based travel information system that will display information about the arrival of buses and service advisory messages at major bus stops and transfer centers. The demonstration phase will proceed for 18 months after the completion of a design competition at the end of 2002. The RTA is also leading the development of a Regional Transit Signal Priority Integration Plan. This effort includes the development of regional standards and guidelines for design, implementation, operation and maintenance of a multi-jurisdictional transit signal priority system. As these systems reach deployment, the CTA plans to incorporate these technologies into the operation of the express bus routes.

Bus Stop Spacing

Finally, while distinct from CTA’s X route initiatives, CTA has also undertaken a comprehensive planning exercise to rationalize its vast bus stop network (currently numbering more than 12,000 stops across 140 routes). The objective of this initiative is to achieve more uniform stop spacing, consistent with CTA’s current service policies of approximately 1/8-mile between local stops and1/2-mile between X route stops.

Using a combination of GIS database analysis, planning and traffic engineering fieldwork, and reviews by bus operations personnel, CTA has identified 700 stops (6% of total) for removal and more than 1,400 stops (12%) for relocation from the near-side to far-side of street intersections. Pending public input and staff refinement, this initiative is expected to generate substantial financial savings to the Authority (from decreased run times, lower maintenance costs, fewer accidents) and decrease customer travel times by 5% or more.

Contact Information

Kenneth Dallmeyer,
Manager, Service Planning
Planning and Development Division
Chicago Transit Authority
120 North Racine Avenue
Chicago, IL 60607
Phone: 312 733-7000 ext. 6724
Fax: 312 432-7127

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Commitment to Accessibility: DOT is committed to ensuring that information is available in appropriate alternative formats to meet the requirements of persons who have a disability. If you require an alternative version of files provided on this page, please contact