Blog Entries

Active Transportation Alliance helps Chicago communities score big transportation win

by Lucy Wang, Advocacy Advance Communications Intern

Securing funding for active transportation projects can be a long and opaque process, especially when community interests are left out of the process.

Fortunately for transportation advocates, though, some cities are choosing to use participatory budgeting — a process wherein cities equip residents with the power to decide how to spend money in their own backyards.

In Chicago, the Active Transportation Alliance has shown that participatory budgeting can be a fast-turnaround opportunity for winning funding for safer streets.

In 2012, four Chicago aldermen announced that they would use a PB pilot program in their four wards, or multi districts, to give residents more say in deciding how to spend $1 million in “Menu Money” for local infrastructure funding.

Active Transportation Alliance was confident that, given the chance, the residents would choose projects conducive to safer streets. The Chicago advocacy group quickly took advantage of this opportunity to apply for a Rapid Response Grant, which Advocacy Advance administers to help state and local organizations secure funding for biking and walking.

Active Trans workshop with the 5th ward


“We had already been working to support residents in wards across the city to develop transportation programming when PB expanded to the four wards,” says Lee Crandell, Director of Campaigns for Active Transportation Alliance. “The PB process came up midyear, after we had already finalized our annual budget. The rapid response grant helped us allocate and add resources to provide support for PB.” The $3,000 Rapid Response grant provided nearly half of the support that Active Transportation Alliance needed for the project.

The 2012 community-driven budgeting process spanned nine months. Afterwards, residents voted for projects that they felt best met community needs and councilmembers submitted the top projects to the city for implementation. Thanks to the Rapid Response grant, Active Trans was able to launch an outreach effort that included conducting community workshops, connecting citizen advocates to the process, helping wards coordinate proposals with the Chicago DOT, and producing crash maps to support discussion on areas to target for safer streets.










Map of Pedestrian Crashes Helps Workshops with Spatial Analysis


The result was a big win for pedestrian and biking projects. With the $3,000 investment by Advocacy Advance and around $4,500 from other sources, Active Trans and the wards’ residents ultimately secured over $1.4 million for safer streets with their votes. Funded projects included examples such as protected bike lanes, a neighborhood greenway, a pedestrian safety study for an unsafe street, and even a new public plaza.















An example of proposed street improvements generated from a workshop held with 5th Ward residents


Active Trans’ success is an inspirational tale not only for other advocacy groups, but for cities as well. Participatory budgeting can be a great opportunity to engage residents in proposing and funding projects they want in their communities. The success also reinforces the lesson that, if given the chance, people will choose safer streets for biking and walking.

“PB is an opportunity that engages different voices, including ours, and with the community voting on how to allocate the resources, the process is more transparent,” explained Crandell. However, he noted that with the definite benefits, there were also drawbacks to the process as well. “There is a lot of debate,” he adds, “on whether PB is achieving it’s goals of increasing participation and being representative of the whole community.”

“Overall,” Crandell says, “I encourage other organizations to get involved if PB comes into their community because you don’t want your voice left out of the process.”

Is your advocacy organization facing an opportunity for securing local or state bike/pedestrian funding on a short deadline? Apply for an Advocacy Advance Rapid Response Grant!

A Partnership of:
Alliance for Biking and WalkingLeague of American Bicyclists
Supported by:


EveryBody Walk Collaborative

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