Chicago aldermen traditionally use their $1.3 million in discretionary “menu” money for basic street, sidewalk and lighting improvements. However, this year a handful of wards are holding participatory budgeting elections. These often result in money being set aside for innovative transportation projects, and walking and biking infrastructure is a relative bargain. 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore, who five years ago became the first U.S. elected official to pioneer the participatory budgeting process, is once again holding a PB election, and a few walking, biking, and transit projects may be on the ballot.
The ward has hosted two community events so far, where residents have had the opportunity to discuss proposed projects. The final meeting takes place this evening at 7 p.m. at St. Paul’s Church by the Lake, 7100 North Ashland. PB committee members will draw upon feedback from constituents to narrow down the candidates to a final ballot, according to Moore’s aid Bob Fuller. Early voting will take place from April 26 to May 2, with the final election happening on May 3. “We’ve been doing this for five years now, and by all accounts things are going smoothly this year,” Fuller said. “But it’s certainly a challenge finding consensus in a neighborhood of 56,000 people.”
The ballot will have a section where residents vote on what percentage of menu money should be spent on street and alley repaving, sidewalk repair and streetlights, from zero to 100 percent. The results are averaged – last year it was 62 percent – and the remainder of the money is awarded to nontraditional projects, according to how many votes they garnered.
The winning proposals in 2013 included funding a $30,000 pedestrian safety engineering study on hectic Sheridan Road, exploring whether bumpouts, signal timing improvements and other strategies could make the street more walkable. Voters also opted to spend $75,000 to install bike-and-chevron shared lane markings on Clark from Albion to Howard. Other proposals that won funding the restoration of cobblestones on Glenwood, and cherry blossom trees and a new water fountain at Touhy Park.
None of the above projects have been finished yet. “It definitely takes more than a year for some things to get done,” Fuller said. The traffic safety study and sharrows are pending the completion of gas line work on Sheridan and Clark.
The most exciting proposal for the upcoming ballot is a north-south neighborhood greenway leading from Edgewater to Evanston, which could be similar to the Berteau Greenway in the 47th Ward. The Chicago Department of Transportation is currently putting together a design for the Rogers Park route, which would likely include stretches of Glenwood, Greenview and Ashland, Fuller said. Other transportation proposals include new bus stop benches and high-visibility, decorative intersection treatments. A couple of these were recently installed in the ward, by the Loyola campus.
The ballot may also include proposals for new carpet at the Rogers Park library, improved fencing at local pocket parks, a small Astroturf soccer field at Langdon Park, and a wheelchair-and-stroller-accessible beach path at Hartigan Park. This brand-new park will be built this spring on the lakefront at Albion, on land that’s currently a city-owned vacant lot. Fuller says it will be a quiet park space with seating, landscaping, a short walking path, and possibly a drinking fountain.