The first participatory budget in Warsaw

2014 was the year of the first edition of the participatory budget in Warsaw. Citizens could decide about how to spend 26 mln zł (6.2 mln Euro), which is only a tiny fraction (0.2%) of the city budget, but can result in a significant change of priorities in organising street space in several districts. Traffic calming or "road diet" projects do not require major investments, but political decisions - and by voting for such projects citizens gave a clear green light for such decisions.

The budget was divided into 18 administrative districts and in some districts - smaller areas. Over 2200 projects were submitted and 1390 were qualified for the voting stage after verification (by the city administration) and pre-selection (by the authors of the projects). Voting took place between June 20th and 30th, and the projects will be implemented during 2015. In many districts the most votes went to projects improving conditions for pedestrians and cyclists.

Examples of winning projects

- In Śródmieście (central district) the most votes were cast on a project of introducing contraflow cycling lanes on 11 streets. Other projects to be implemented included cycling lanes on Nowy Świat street between Charles de Gaulle roundabout and Trzech Krzyży square (an important missing link) and a new pedestrian crossing at the north side of Bankowy square.

Location of existing (green) and proposed (red) contraflow cycling lanes in the centre of Warsaw.

Example of proposed contraflow cycling lane on Oboźna street.

Bike lanes on Nowy Świat will connect the bike path in al. Ujazdowskie with northern section of so called Royal Route, where the traffic has already been limited to buses, taxis and bicycles.

- In area 2 of Mokotów district Kazimierzowska street will undergo comprehensive traffic calming, including a contraflow cycling lane and 8 new traffic islands on pedestrian crossings.

- In Ochota district the project which got the most votes focused on facilitating walking and cycling outside the main road network, primarily through legalising two-way cycling on one-way local streets and creating new pedestrian and cycling crossings across main streets. Additionally, in the Rakowiec area of the same district cycling lanes projects won first and second place.

- In Praga Północ two complementary cycling projects will be implemented. One is a network of cycling lanes in the older, southern part of the district; the other focuses on improving the cohesion of the cycling network in the newer, northern part. Although the projects were promoted as cycling-oriented, they involve also many improvements for pedestrians, such as freeing the pavement from parking (moving parking spaces from the pavement to the carriageway) or constructing traffic islands on pedestrian crossings.

Okrzei street - one of the streets to undergo "road diet" in the project Cycling lanes network in Old Praga. Current distribution of road space is definitely unfair.

The project involves moving parking from sidewalk to carriageway, introducing a contraflow cycling lane and extending the sidewalk on crossings. Proposal for the junction of Okrzei and Krowia.

One of the pedestrian crossings on Jagiellońska street to be equipped with traffic islands.

- Ursus will introduce cycling lanes on 7 streets and legalise contraflow cycling on 23 one-way streets.

- Żoliborz will implement road diet project on a major street - Krasińskiego. Cycling lanes will be introduced and car parking will be partially moved from the pavement to the carriageway.

Proposed redistribution of road space on Krasińskiego street in Żoliborz district (top - present state, bottom - the project).

Other cycling projects won also in Bemowo, Praga Południe, Targówek, Włochy and Wola - basically every major district with the exception of Bielany (see below) and Ursynów. In Ursynów a road diet project on 10 streets (improving safety on 30 pedestrian crossings + 9 km of cycling lanes) also received massive public support (2nd best result in the district and in all of Warsaw), but the entire budget allocated for the district was exhausted by the winning project (an integration activity centre for handicapped). The district mayor promised to find extra funds for at least partial implementation of the safe pedestrian crossings and cycling lanes project.

Criticism

The participatory budget process was not without flaws. The major points of criticism included:

- Insufficient information about the projects. On the official page of the participatory budget only brief summaries of the projects were available. In the case of pedestrian and cycling projects this gap was partially filled by Zielone Mazowsze with budzet.zm.org.pl , which provided the full text of project applications, attached drawings, pictures etc.

- Cases of abuse of the formal verification stage to disqualify projects. In the districts of Śródmieście, Wola, Ochota and Żoliborz citizens were not allowed to vote on 4 "most wanted" pedestrians crossings, although the proposed crossings' locations did not violate any specific formal regulation. In Bielany district the local administration did not allow any cycling infrastructure or traffic calming projects to be voted on - all proposed bike paths, bike lanes or raised crossings were rejected by the district office. Curiously, this was also the district with the lowest turnout (only 4.8% of citizens took part in voting, more than 3 times less than 15.5% in Ursynów).

- Arbitrary assessment of costs. During the verification phase quotations for some projects were raised even 15 times. Adjustments were often made at the last minute, without any consultation with project authors, or even explanation. The changes in costs influenced the amount and final choice of projects, for example in the districts of Śródmieście and Mokotów.

It is worth noting that in many districts similar and other problems were successfully resolved by local participatory budget committees. Each committee consisted of 5 representatives of the local authorities, 5 members of non-govermental organisations, 5 non-affiliated citizens and met regularly to monitor the participatory budget process in the district.

Summary

The total cost of the 19 cycling and combined cycling and walking projects that won the voting amounts to 4.1 mln zł (1 mln Euro, around 16% of the budget). A further 1.7 mln were awarded to strictly pedestrian projects. Given the fact that the projects had to compete not only within the field of transport infrastructure (for example with parking lots), but also with environmental, cultural or sport projects, this indicates the importance walking and cycling conditions for citizens.

Other successful projects involve green areas in the city (new parks, trees to be planted, bird houses etc.), libraries (new books, better equipment), the internet (public Wi-Fi spots) and schools (modernisation of facilities, better equipment).

See also

(in Polish)

Official page of the participatory budget: twojbudzet.um.warszawa.pl

Participatory budget on Facebook: www.facebook.com/budzetpartycypacyjnywarszawa

Pedestrian and cycling projects: budzet.zm.org.pl