SEPTA: New bus route connecting Grays Ferry and Brewerytown to University City expected to launch in 2018

It might not always seem that way, like when the bus still pulls away without you despite your sprinting and shouts, but SEPTA listens.

At least when it comes to planning a new bus route. At a public meeting on Tuesday, SEPTA planners unveiled a longer, straighter proposal for a new route that would connect Grays Ferry and Brewerytown through University City, providing both booming bedroom communities with one-seat rides to the city’s second-largest employment hub. The new route comes as a response to rider demand.

This is the third year SEPTA has proposed Route 49 at its annual service plan open house, but planners feel the third time’s the charm. “We feel very confident about this proposal,” said Steve D’Antonio, SEPTA’s city service planning director. After multiple planning meetings with community groups, SEPTA says, everyone now seems on board, which means the new service could begin as soon as September (assuming some construction along the route is completed by then; if not, the new service will begin in February 2019.)

North-to-south, the route runs from the 33rd and Dauphin Streets bus loop in Strawberry Mansion down 29th Street to Pennsylvania Avenue, passing through Brewerytown to Fairmount, where it turns down Fairmount Avenue to 21st Street The buses will then take Market Street over the Schuylkill River, then cut through the Drexel and Penn campuses to the complex of buildings home to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. The route then takes the 34th Street Bridge over to Grays Ferry Avenue, turning down 29th to Snyder. It’s mostly the same in reverse, with a block adjustment here and there to account for one-way streets.

Proposed Route 49
Proposed Route 49 (SEPTA)

The route proposed last year was much squatter, ending at Tasker Avenue in Grays Ferry and Cecil B. Moore Avenue in Brewerytown. Strawberry Mansion residents pushed SEPTA to extend the route a bit further north. In Grays Ferry, residents wanted the connection to be longer, and provide better access to the new Fresh Grocer supermarket on Grays Ferry Avenue. And in between, Grad Hospital residents questioned the need for a circuitous loop immediately east of the South Street Bridge. Taking the 34th Street Bridge instead avoids that problem altogether.

In order to keep the service levels the same while stretching the route’s length, the 49 buses won’t go as far west in University City as originally proposed. But there are plenty of transfer options — bus, trolley and the Market-Frankford Line — for riders, said Anita Davidson, SEPTA operations planner.

SEPTA plans to run nine buses on the new route during rush hour peaks for 15-minute headways between buses. Authority staff will be seeking additional public input on the proposed route before its put before the SEPTA Board for approval in June.

The new route would also provide the first direct bus link between 30th Street Station and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. And the changes to the bus route will also provide a public transit connection between the Penn campus and its Pennnovation Center situated just on the other side of the 34th Street Bridge.

Besides Route 49, SEPTA had few significant proposals to present this year. The transit agency has proposed minor tweaks to a half-dozen city and suburban routes. SEPTA is also exploring a shift in service between Norristown and Phoenixville by way of King of Prussia. Currently, riders rely on the Route 99 bus for that. SEPTA has proposed shortening Route 99 and extending Route 131 between the Norristown Transportation Center and Audobon instead.* The proposal would effectively cut off the end of Route 99 and affix it to Route 131. This proposal is still in conceptual stage, meaning SEPTA has no plans to implement the change this year.

*Correction: PlanPhilly originally had Route 99 and Route 131 backwards. 

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