This Year’s 49th Ward PB Ballot Includes a Few Transit Projects

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A 49th Ward participatory budgeting expo. Photo: 49th Ward

Each of Chicago’s 50 wards gets an annual $1.3 million in discretionary “menu” funding to spend on infrastructure projects each year. Usually the alderman decides how the money is spent and typically most of the money is used for traditional projects like street resurfacing, sidewalk repair, and streetlamp installation.

However, the growing participatory budget movement, which lets constituents vote on how menu money is spent, has paved the way for more innovative uses, including many sustainable transportation projects. Seven years ago 49th Ward alderman Joe Moore pioneered participatory budgeting in the United States, and this year six other wards are holding PB elections:

Ward 10 – Susan Sadlowski Garza
Ward 17 – David H. Moore
Ward 31 – Milly Santiago
Ward 35 – Carlos Ramirez-Rosa
Ward 36 – Gilbert Villegas
Ward 45 – John Arena

In recent years, some activists in Moore’s diverse Rogers Park ward have argued that the PB process, intended to make the decision-making process for spending ward money more democratic, actually favors wealthier residents. They noted that there was relatively low participation from low-income residents, people of color, and Spanish speakers.

Moore’s assistant Wayne Frazier, who handles infrastructure issues, told me that the ward did additional outreach this year, and new residents were involved. The work of a Spanish outreach committee resulted in good turnout at the ward’s Spanish-language PB meetings, and there were generally 35 to 60 residents at all of this year’s PB meetings, Frazier said.

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A PB poll site in the 49th Ward. Photo: 49th Ward

On the participatory budgeting ballot, residents will first be asked to vote on the percentage of the ward’s $1 million infrastructure budget ($300,000 is kept in a rainy-day for emergency infrastructure issues) they want spent on street and alley resurfacing and sidewalk repairs. Then they will be asked to choose how to spend the remainder of the budget from among eight proposed neighborhood improvement projects.

Early voting starts next Saturday, April 16, at the ward service office, 7356 North Greenview, and other locations, and continues for two weeks. The main election day for the ward is Saturday, April 30th, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., at the Chicago Math and Science Academy, 7212 North Clark.

Here’s a presentation on all the projects 49th Ward residents can choose from.

A few transit-related projects are on the ballot. Residents can vote to spend $30,000 to paint a mural on the CTA embankment wall of Dubkin Park, 7442 North Ashland.

They can opt to spend $40,000 to install 11 bus benches in various locations throughout the ward, including southbound Clark Street at Touhy, North Shore, Pratt and Greenleaf; northbound Clark Street at Albion, North Shore, Pratt and Lunt; westbound Devon Avenue at Greenview and Lakewood; and southbound Sheridan Road at North Shore.

Another project on the ballot is curb cuts and a crosswalk at the CTA’s Howard Street terminal at 7557 North Paulina, which would cost $40,000. This would to allow people with strollers or disabilities to access the north end of the train station.

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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 […]