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Atlantans speak up in ‘participatory budgeting’ process, call for safer streets

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Suggestions for unspent cash leaned toward bike projects, street fixes, and even Atlanta Streetcar expansion

An aerial photo of a large city with parking lots and tall buildings.
A section of Atlanta where Downtown Decides! could have an infrastructural impact.
Jonathan Phillips, Curbed Atlanta

When Atlanta City Councilman Amir Farokhi discovered about $1 million in unspent transportation infrastructure funding in his district’s coffers, he turned to his constituency to find the best way to spend it.

In November, the District 2 representative launched the “Downtown Decides!” campaign, a participatory budgeting program that allowed Atlantans to pitch projects they deemed deserving of the money.

At the end of January, the window to submit suggestions closed, leaving Farokhi with more than 100 proposals for projects ranging from road repairs, signage upgrades, and improvements to alternative transportation infrastructure.

The most popular ideas lobbed by Atlantans focused on making changes that would improve the lives of cyclists.

Of the 115 proposals submitted through the Downtown Decides! portal, just nine called for cycling-specific projects, while 10 sought sidewalk upgrades and 20 suggested street design changes.

However, the single most popular initiative, according to the number of “likes” awarded to each project, was called “Connected Downtown: Marietta Street Cycle Track,” which claimed 1,622 likes.

The next most popular proposal, garnering 655 likes, was the “Fairlie Poplar Path.”

Other folks suggested expanding the Atlanta Streetcar system.

But this doesn’t mean these (or other) projects are a shoe-in for the money—or that they’re possible to accomplish with just $1 million.

Between now and May, Farokhi’s office will work with the new Atlanta Department of Transportation and the city’s planning department to figure out which projects are legal, feasible, and affordable.

“Then, in May, we will come back to you for a two-week voting period,” the councilman wrote on Twitter.

Atlanta is the first major city in the South to test a participatory budgeting program, Farokhi has said.