I was nonplussed when I checked out the results of Saturday’s 49th Ward participatory budgeting election this morning. The most exciting proposal, a bike-priority neighborhood greenway, which was discussed at a community meeting in mid-April, wasn’t one of the winning projects, since it wasn’t even included on the ballot.
Fortunately, the north-south greenway, originally proposed for Greenview and Glennwood, is still a strong possibility. “It looks like we will have enough funding to pay for it without using menu money,” said Alderman Joe Moore’s chief of staff Betsy Vandercook. “Plus, we’re not even sure what streets this would go on, so it seemed premature to ask people to fund it.”
Vandercore said the Chicago Department of Transportation may apply for a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grant to help cover the greenway’s cost, which will depend on the final design. “It looks like there’s a good chance we’ll get a grant,” she said.
There may also be some leftover money after previously elected Rogers Park bike projects are completed, which could go towards the required 20-percent local match for the CMAQ grant. For example, last year residents voted to spend $75,000 on bike-and-chevron shared lane markings on Clark from Albion to Howard but, due to gas line work, they haven’t been installed yet. If the grant doesn’t come through, the greenway may wind up on a future PB ballot.
Meanwhile, CDOT staffers will be doing traffic studies to determine which route would work best for the greenway. At last month’s meeting, several attendees worried that Greenview and Glenwood have too much car and truck traffic during rush hours to make for a low-stress bike route. Vandercook said many Rogers Parkers have signed up for an advisory council for the project.
Five years ago, Moore was the first U.S. elected official to hold a PB election, and this was the ward’s biggest turnout yet, with 1,763 voters, compared to 1,400 in 2013. This year, constituents voted to spend 69 percent of the $1 million PB budget (out of the ward’s $1.3 million in discretionary “menu” money) on conventional projects like street repaving, repairing sidewalks and fixing streetlights. That’s not surprising, since the harsh winter left the streets in rough shape.
However, residents did vote to spend $36,750 on 15 black metal benches for bus stops on Clark, Howard, Rogers and Sheridan. Vandercook said the ward has already installed its share of the city’s bus shelters. The benches, which will be installed at stops with no seating, will certainly encourage transit use in a ward with plenty of senior housing. Residents also opted to spend $100,000 on carpet for the Rogers Park library, $75,00 for a new water play area at Pottawattomie Park, and $75,000 for a wheelchair and stroller path at Hartigan Beach.