Chicagoans Gave Big Support to Ped/Bike Projects in PB Elections

PB5 Vote
Voting in the 5th Ward Participatory Budgeting election. Photo courtesy of PB Chicago.

The results of last week’s participatory budgeting elections show that, when you give them a chance, Chicago residents are happy to support projects that make our streets safer, more efficient and more vibrant. The 5th, 45th, 46th and 49th wards took part in the PB process, which allows citizens to propose ideas for each district’s $1.3 million in discretionary “menu” money and then vote on the projects that make it on the final ballot. While aldermen traditionally decide how menu money is used, and normally opt for basic street, sidewalk and lighting improvements, these results mean several innovative walking, biking, transit and public space initiatives will debut in the near future.

A whopping 1,400 participants cast ballots in the Far North Side’s 49th Ward, where Alderman Joe Moore first pioneered the process in 2010. “The participatory budgeting elections have exceeded even my wildest dreams,” said Moore in a statement. “They are more than elections.  They are community celebrations and an affirmation that people will participate in the civic affairs of their community if given real power to make real decisions.”

His constituents voted to spend $30,000 on a pedestrian safety engineering study on Sheridan, which could lead to improvements like curb extensions to shorten crossing distances, and changes to stoplight and walk signal timing. They also voted to use $75,000 to install shared-lane markings for bikes on Clark from Howard to Albion. Other proposals that won funding included new sidewalks, the restoration of cobblestones on Glennwood, and cherry blossom trees and a new water fountain at Touhy Park.

In Leslie Hairston’s 5th Ward, on the south lakefront, the transportation committee for the PB process proposed 23 different projects, including many nontraditional ideas for promoting biking and transit use. However, unlike the other three aldermen, Hairston decided to designate these as “service requests” that should instead be funded by city departments, the CTA or the park district. The alderman has asked members of the committee to follow up with the relevant agencies to make sure these projects are completed, with the understanding that she has prioritized them, although she declined to fund them. However, street, sidewalk and lighting repairs, which can also be paid for by city agencies, were left on the PB ballot.

Perhaps not coincidentally, turnout in the 5th Ward PB election was relatively low, with only about 100 voters. “As word spreads, we look forward to more people taking part in next year’s Participatory Budgeting process,” said 5th Ward Chief of Staff Kimberl Webb in a statement. The winning three projects are an urban garden, street lamp improvements, and new lighting in Metra viaducts.

SherMon Plaza proposal FINAL 2-11-13
Proposed design of SherMon Plaza, which won funding in the 46th Ward.

In John Arena’s 45th Ward, on the Far Northwest Side, several bike projects did make it on the ballot, including bike lanes on Lawrence and Milwaukee, and on-street bike parking corrals, although they weren’t among the winning five projects. However, voters did support spending $125,000 to install a new pedestrian crossing light at the Jefferson Park Transit Center, which will also improve access for CTA buses. Over 650 people voted; winning proposals also included viaduct remediation and pigeon abatement, an artificial turf playing field for a local school, viaduct lighting and a community garden.

Residents of James Cappleman’s 46th ward, on the north lakefront, voted for some truly groundbreaking transportation proposals. The SherMon Plaza project will spend $79,000 on connecting a traffic island at Sheridan/Montrose/Broadway to the “mainland” to create a new public space, something that has likely never been done in Chicago. The $142,000 Leland Greenway will be a traffic calmed bike boulevard leading from Clark to the lakefront, another first. The $270,000 Walkable 46 project will fund crosswalks, pedestrian countdown signals and traffic calming. $448,000 will be spent on building or refreshing bike lanes on several streets in the ward. The other winning proposals were for security cameras in Sheridan Park and a left-turn signal at Sheridan/Irving Park. 390 residents voted in the election.

Arline Welty, a facilitator with the 46th Ward’s streets and cycling infrastructure committee, said she’s thrilled with the outcome. “Everything we wanted got completely funded,” she said. “It’s exciting that walking and biking improvements are the number-one priority in the ward, and we’re going to be able to deliver them.”

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