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.