Participatory budgeting to take year off in 45th Ward; bump-outs on Central remain a priority


Alderman John Arena (45th) will skip the participatory budget process for 2017 to work on ways to increase resident involvement for 2018 and to focus on completing existing projects, including pedestrian bump-outs along Central Avenue.

Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh said that the 1-year hiatus from the participatory process was necessitated when the city Department of Transportation requested wards to submit their annual list of infrastructure improvements at the start of 2017. In the past the 45th Ward submitted its completed list in the middle of the year.

“They’re trying to make sure that projects actually are done in the year that they are funded.” Brugh said of the department’s request. It is not unusual for a project to be completed several years after the funds were set-aside for it.

Since 2013 Arena has held a community vote in May to determine how most of the ward’s annual allocation of $1.32 million in discretionary funds should be spent. The funds must be used for infrastructure improvements, such as side-street resurfacing, bike lanes, trees and new playgrounds.

Arena was the first area alderman to use participatory budgeting, but Alderman Gilbert Villegas (36th) and Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) recently began the process in their wards. Most aldermen submit a list of recommended project to the transportation department without holding a community vote.

Brugh said that the hiatus will allow more time to plan for the participatory vote for the 2018 funds. That vote is expected to be held in the fall of 2017.

About 280 ward residents voted on the 2016 budget, compared to a typical turnout of 500. Efforts will be made to increase voter turnout and to encourage higher participation on the committees which study the feasibility of each funding proposal, Brugh said.

Although the ward will not be holding a vote on the 2017 budget, it will still be receiving the funds, Brugh said. Some of the funds will be allocated for cost overruns of previously approved projects which have not been completed, he said.

One of those unfinished projects calls for curb extensions, which shorten the distance of a crosswalk, on Central at Giddings Street. Initially the plan called for the bump-outs to be installed at Leland Avenue, but the transportation department believes Giddings would be a more effective location, Brugh said.

The project requires the lifting of rush-hour parking restrictions on Central between Montrose Avenue on the south and Lawrence Avenue on the north, as the bump-outs would be extended into the parking lane. The project had been projected to cost under $60,000, but about $120,000 is now required, Brugh said.

The affected stretch of Central covers both the 45th and 38th wards. While Arena supports the lifting the rush-hour restrictions, Alderman Nicholas Sposato said that he does want to make a commitment until he holds a community meeting on the project.

“I’m not 100 percent confident if it would it as safe for pedestrians as people think,” Sposato said. However, he added that he expects the project would proceed as long as there are “no hitches” at the meeting.

City traffic engineers feel that eliminating use of the parking lane for through traffic would reduce speeding and help prevent aggressive lane changes, Brugh said. The transportation department is recommending that rush-hour parking restrictions on Central be lifted as far north as Higgins Avenue, he said.

The project has received increased media attention since a van on Nov. 13 struck a mother and her 2-year-old son while they were crossing the Giddings-Central intersection. The boy was killed, while the mother suffered minor injuries, police said.

Based on recent feedback from residents, some of the 2017 funds may be allocated for crosswalk and traffic safety improvements at other intersections in the ward, Brugh said. Some of the funds also will be used for street resurfacing, he said.

A date for the community meeting on the Central-Giddings project has not been set. The Jefferson Park Forward, Portage Park Neighborhood Association and Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce have voiced support for the bump-outs.