Several of the participatory budgeting committees had the opportunity to hear from representatives of Chicago’s Department of Transportation on Tuesday, January 12th. Present were Mike Volini, Assistant Commissioner at CDoT; Deputy Commissioner Randy Conner, also from CDoT; and TaNesheha Harris from the Office of Emergency Management and Communication.
Here are some notes and highlights from that meeting and information on the role these departments play in the menu money proposals the participatory budgeting committees will be creating.
- The Menu (the list of standard options available for this allotment of funds) has not yet been issued to the alderman; will be issued soon after accountants determine ball park costs. Once they are sent out to the alderman, a deadline date will be set by which proposals/selection from the menu should be submitted to offices. Can take 14-16 weeks to run through all appropriate offices. If we pass the deadline it might mean that not all projects get to be constructed within the year.
- Joe Moore noted that for some proposals – notably, traffic calming – there is already a participatory process through his office in which residents on a given block are surveyed about doing a project on their block. Moore would like to maintain this process for any traffic calming proposals that come out of the participatory budgeting process.
- Almost every proposal requires engineers to survey the proposed site for repairs or changes. If it’s street lighting, they look to see if a new light or just a simple upgrade of bulbs is what’s needed; for bigger projects, they measure and survey to see if a given proposal is feasible. They will also look for other repairs that need to be done at the same time and make a recommendation for these. The judgment of the engineers is a major component in whether or not a given proposal is deemed necessary or feasible.
- Many proposals must also be cleared through the Office of Underground Coordination, which knows about projects that might be going on regarding utilities and services involving underground elements: water mains and anything else underground. It can take 6-8 weeks for a proposal to clear this office.
- Many proposals that involve sidewalks are more costly and involve more work because federal law mandates that if repairs or upgrades are being made, accessible ramps must be put into the sidewalk.
- Many proposals for street improvements will not be approved to go ahead if there is any planned project for that section of street in the next five years. If a utility plans on doing underground work, for instance, the street will not be approved for resurfacing.
- Bike lane proposals can take especially long to approve as larger feasibility studies must be undertaken, looking at crash data, traffic counts, pedestrian counts, and any plans for future construction. (Note: The Transportation Committee discussed concerns after the meeting about what “feasibility” means in this context: how do we build bike lanes to encourage more bike use, if current traffic data says there are too many cars to make a bike lane “feasible”? This question was unresolved.)
- After all the engineering surveys and feasibility judgments, CDoT will put an estimated price tag on the project and return that to the alderman’s office. For our participatory budgeting process timeline, this should occur before the final vote on the projects so that all residents can make an informed vote regarding that takes into account the cost of these projects.