Homes in Wicker Park from above on Feb. 8, 2023. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

WICKER PARK — Logan Square, Wicker Park and West Town residents can once again propose ideas for improvements to their street, alley, sidewalk or anywhere else around the 1st Ward.

Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) last week launched his office’s annual participatory budgeting process, which allows neighbors to propose ideas for infrastructure projects, formulate them into viable proposals and open them up to ward-wide voting later this year.

The top proposals at the end of the process are funded with around $1 million of the annual $1.5 million the 1st Ward receives in aldermanic menu money. The remaining $500,000 is earmarked for potential cost overruns and urgent infrastructure priorities, 1st Ward chief of staff Nicholas Zettel said Monday.

Participatory budgeting has gained popularity in recent years, with some alderpeople using online surveys to accept ideas while others do so in person at events and ward offices.

This is the 1st Ward’s fourth year of participatory budgeting. Last year, top proposals included a protected bike lane on a section of California Avenue in Logan Square, pedestrian improvements on part of Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park and funds to modernize the Logan Square skate park under the Kennedy Expressway.

“We want to make sure that infrastructure decisions, decisions with your dollars in your community, have some sort of open relationship with the office,” Zettel said Wednesday at a virtual meeting.

1st Ward residents can submit project ideas online through Aug. 9. Volunteer groups will work to formulate the ideas into feasible projects. Voting on proposals will go live in October and November, according to the survey.

“Typically, 1st Ward residents have urged that infrastructure funds be used to promote pedestrian bump-outs; protected bike lanes; open space improvements; street lights; roundabouts; and related infrastructure improvements,” the survey reads. “Sometimes murals, dog friendly areas, park improvements, and CTA infrastructure may be installed, but these ideas require intergovernmental coordination.”

A cyclist rides on the 900 block of North Wood Street, where a protected bike lane is proposed that would make Wood a one-way street, as seen on Jan. 27, 2022. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Participation in the 1st Ward’s participatory budgeting process grew significantly last year following a 2021 proposal to build protected bike lanes on part of Wood Street, Zettel said.

Approved by only 67 votes, the proposal would turn Wood from Grand Avenue to Ellen Street in Wicker Park and West Town into a northbound one-way street to accommodate the bike lanes.

Some neighbors have been sharply critical of the plan, which as proposed would create three one-ways in row: Honore Street, Wood Street and Hermitage Avenue. Others have praised the project, saying it would make biking and driving safer along Wood.

Zettel said at last week’s meeting the Wood Street project and response was a “learning process” that inspired the 1st Ward office to greatly expand community outreach surrounding its participatory budgeting process.

That helped garner around triple the amount of votes on proposals in 2022 versus 2021, he said.

“We expanded our community engagement last year, we worked harder on community engagement, we took some lessons about the Wood Street bike lane in particular and built from that,” Zettel said.

The 1st Ward office is planning a community meeting to update neighbors on the Wood Street proposal, with details to be be announced shortly, Zettel said in an email Monday.

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