No participatory budget vote held in 45th Ward until 2018





by BRIAN NADIG

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 bumpouts along Central Avenue.

Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh said that the hiatus from the participatory budget process was made necessary when the city Department of Transportation asked aldermen to submit their annual list of infrastructure improvements at the start of 2017. In the past the 45th Ward submitted its 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. 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 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 time to plan for the vote for the 2018 funds. The 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 about 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.

Brugh said that some of the funds that the ward will receive for 2017 will be allocated to cost overruns of previously approved projects that have not been completed.

One of the unfinished projects is for the installation of curb extensions, which shorten the distance of a crosswalk, on Central Avenue at Giddings Street. Plans initially called for the bumpouts to be installed at Leland Avenue, but the transportation department believes Giddings would be a more effective location, Brugh said.

The project requires rush-hour parking restrictions to be lifted on Central between Montrose Avenue and Lawrence Avenue because the bumpouts will be extended into the parking lane. The project had been projected to cost under $60,000, but about $120,000 now is required, Brugh said.

The affected stretch of Central is in the 45th and 38th wards. While Arena supports 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 it would it as safe for pedestrians as people think," Sposato said. However, he said that he expects the project will 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. He said that the department recommends that rush-hour parking restrictions on Central be lifted as far north as Higgins Avenue.

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

Based on recent comments by residents, some of the 2017 funds may be allocated to 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 has not been set for a community meeting on the Central-Giddings project. Jefferson Park Forward, the Portage Park Neighborhood Association and the Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce have expressed support for the bumpouts.

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