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45th Ward Residents Can Vote for Ped, Bike and Transit Improvements

Jefferson Park Transit Center

One of the great things about the participatory budgeting process, now taking place in Chicago’s 5th, 45th, 46th, and 49th wards, is that it encourages aldermen to spend ward money on outside-the-box sustainable transportation projects. By allowing citizens to vote on how a ward’s $1.3 million in discretionary “menu” funds are used, the process provides support from constituents for expenditures that might seem more politically risky than the usual roadwork and streetlamp repair.

Case in point is Alderman John Arena’s 45th Ward, a Far Northwest district made up largely of the Jefferson Park neighborhood, not usually thought of as a hotbed for progressive transportation policy. Thanks to input from residents, protected bike lanes and on-street bike parking corrals, as well as a new pedestrian stoplight by the Blue Line’s Jefferson Park station, will likely be on the ballot when voting starts on May 29.

Asked why Arena was willing to give up his right to determine how the menu money should be spent, Chief of Staff Owen Brugh said, “We don’t have a monopoly on what the best ideas are for our community. To motivate people to get involved in the process, frankly, you have to give up a little power. We decided to trust our constituents and take that leap. It’s their tax money.”

View Proposed Jefferson Park buffered lanes in a larger map

Proposed buffered lanes on Lawrence (blue) and Milwaukee (red).

There have been six community meetings so far to brainstorm ideas for the ballot. There will be an expo where residents can find out more about the various proposals tonight from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Filament Theatre, 4041 North Milwaukee. Additional seminars will take place on Thursday, April 11, from 7 – 9 p.m. at Saint Constance Church, 5843 West Strong, and on Saturday, April 13, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Copernicus Center, 5216 West Lawrence.

“It’s very time- and labor-intensive for the ward staff and volunteers,” Brugh said. "But in the end it’s going to be worth it because we’ll end up with a budget that accurately reflects the community’s values. The expos will be a chance for us to get feedback from the community one last time before we finalize what’s going on the ballot.”

New buffered bike lanes are proposed for a two-mile stretch of Milwaukee between Lawrence and Addison at an estimated cost of $120,000, according to 45th Ward Director of Development Anthony Alfano. There is also a proposal to upgrade existing bike lanes, on an .8-mile stretch of Lawrence between Long and Cicero, to buffered lanes, for an estimated $32,000.

View Location of pedestrian stoplight by Jeff Park station in a larger map

Proposed location for a pedestrian stoplight at the Jefferson Park Transit Center.

Citizens will likely be able to vote for bike corrals in three locations, costing a total of $7-10,000, Alfaro said. One could go by a Mariano’s Fresh Market at 535 North Elston, another might be installed at Fischman’s Liquors and Tap, 4780 North Milwaukee, and a third could be placed at Lawrence and Marmora, in a small, mom-and-pop shopping district.

Brugh said the third corral location is in an area that has traditionally been underserved for bike facilities. “Once you get west of Milwaukee on the Northwest side there aren’t a lot of bike amenities,” he said, "Right now it’s a very car-centric place. Bike parking would help create one more transit option so we can further promote businesses in the community.”

The new pedestrian stoplight at the Jefferson Park transit center would be located just north of the exit for southbound and eastbound buses. “The way the streets are configured, it’s a little complicated to cross Milwaukee there,” Brugh said. He added that the new signal could also facilitate left turns by buses leaving the station, as well as left turns by buses entering the station from the north. The cost for the signal it yet-to-be determined.

Early voting for the menu budget takes placed from April 29 to May 3 at the ward office, 4754 North Milwaukee; constituents will also be able to vote from May 3 to 5 at other locations, to be announced. “It’s really up to the community on whether or not these things get done,” Brugh said. Hopefully Jefferson Parkers will support these projects that will encourage walking, biking and transit use in their neighborhood.

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