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Projects To Make 45th Ward More Pedestrian Friendly Win Big at Polls

 Three people spots, like this one in Andersonville, were funded in the 45th Ward participatory budgeting election.
Three people spots, like this one in Andersonville, were funded in the 45th Ward participatory budgeting election.
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DNAinfo/Mina Bloom

JEFFERSON PARK — Milwaukee Avenue bicycle lanes, three people spots and several projects to make getting around Portage Park and Jefferson Park on foot and by bicycle easier were the big winners in the 45th Ward's Participatory Budgeting vote.

For the third year in a row, Ald. John Arena (45th) allowed voters to decide how to spend his $1 million discretionary budget.

During the weeklong vote that culminated Saturday, 447 people voted to spend 54.7 percent of the budget on road repair.

That leaves $453,000 to fund the top seven projects on the ballot, which include a host of pedestrian improvements, Arena's office announced.

The top vote-getter was a plan to spend $60,000 to build bicycle lanes on Milwaukee Avenue between Addison Street and Lawrence Avenue, through the Six Corners Shopping District and into the heart of the Jefferson Park Business District.

Lighting and pedestrian improvements under the Kennedy Expressway at Pulaski Avenue and the sidewalk next to the expressway from Pulaski and Dakin avenues to Byron Street and Parkside Avenue also won enough votes to be funded.

Voters also agreed to spend $24,000 for people spots at Lawrence and Austin avenues; Lawrence and Milwaukee avenues; and Milwaukee and Cuyler avenues.

People spots transform parking spots into playful places for people to gather, officials said. Each people spot costs $8,000 each and must be approved by the Chicago Department of Transportation. The Six Corners Association will maintain the People Spot at Six Corners, while the Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce has agreed to maintain the other two, Arena's office said Monday.

Also getting the thumbs up was a plan to extend the curbs at Milwaukee and Cuyler avenues; Milwaukee and Warner avenues; Milwaukee and Giddings Street; Central and Balmoral avenues; and Central and Leland avenues.

Also known as pedestrian bump-outs, the project would be designed to make it safer for people to get around on foot. The plan must be approved by city transportation officials and requires the elimination of rush-hour-parking restrictions, officials said.

Voters also agreed to spend $60,000 to build a pedestrian refuge island at Cicero Avenue at Pensacola Avenue, to make it easier to get from the west side of Cicero Avenue to the Mayfair Metra station.

In addition to the projects designed to make Jefferson Park and Portage Park more walkable, two schools will get new recreation areas.

Voters agreed to spend $100,000 for a project to replace much of the grass on the Disney II magnet high school and elementary school campus, which gets muddy and unusable, with a turf field in cooperation with the Chicago Public Schools.

In addition, voters gave Arena the green light to contribute $100,000 to efforts to build a new playground at Farnsworth Elementary School

Eventually, the asphalt that surrounds the school will be removed as part of a $1.8 million project in conjunction with CPS, said Owen Brugh, Arena's chief of staff.

"We're going to take it in small stages until all funding is identified," Brugh said.

Arena won re-election last month against Chicago Police Lt. John Garrido, who called the budgeting process "complete failure" because only about 1 percent of the ward's residents participated and voters do not have a "complete picture" of the condition of the ward's streets.

In 2013, approximately 650 residents voted in the election, and in 2014, 500 people cast a vote, according to Arena's office. Despite the use of mobile voting booths to boost participation, turnout declined again, with 447 votes cast in this year's election, officials said.

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