Aldermen move to ban horse-drawn carriages from city streets

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Sun-Times Library

Horse-drawn carriages are popular with tourists, but they’re cruel to horses and dangerous to motorists, a downtown aldermen said Wednesday, proposing that existing carriage licenses be allowed to expire and not renewed.

“They present a picture-postcard type of charm. But their time has past…They no longer seem justified,” said Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd).

“Just as the circus eventually eliminated elephants and closed its doors completely, it does seem like it’s a relic from the past and doesn’t have any place in an urban environment. It’s just a matter of time before we experience a serious collision that could result in injuries or even death…. Why wait for a tragic incident to occur? We should pro-actively eliminate them now.”

Earlier this week, Hopkins’ downtown colleague, Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) harnessed his own proposal to narrow the temperature range for Chicago’s horse-drawn carriages, but renewed his threat to ban them from city streets.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Reilly joined Hopkins in moving on that threat.

The ordinance they jointly introduced would delete all of the language governing city licenses and regulations for horse-drawn carriages and replace it with the single sentence that would mark the beginning of the end of the industry.

It states, “No horse-drawn carriage license shall be renewed.”

“It’s a total ban on horse-drawn carriages in the downtown area. But it’s phased in. We’re not putting anyone out of business immediately. We’re allowing their licenses to lapse on schedule and not renew them,” Hopkins said.

“This is something people have requested over the years. They’re a hazard. They obstruct traffic. And increasingly, there’s a perception that it’s cruel to the animals themselves. The conditions they have to operate in – in heavy traffic, surrounded by piercing siren noises that hurt their ears, working long shifts — it isn’t healthy for them.”

Reilly is still talking about relegating horse-drawn carriages to lakefront parks.

“This does not preclude them from working with the Park District to identify park locations for the horses to work as NYC did with Central Park years ago,” Reilly wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“The intent is to take these horses off of our traffic congested streets and allow them to pursue staging opportunities with the Park District in our larger city parks.

This would allow the carriage operators to continue their work – but in a more suitable, less-congested environment where they aren’t co-mingled with trucks, vans, buses and cars in lanes of traffic, while inhaling exhaust fumes all day.”

Hopkins said he, too, is open to that idea of horse-drawn carriages in parks. But he doesn’t believe the economics would work for the already shrinking industry.

“If they come to us and say, ‘Okay. We’re gonna close our Michigan Ave. operation and we will continue to operate off-street in Lincoln Park. We think we can do that,’ I would certainly be open to that,” Hopkins said.

“I don’t think they will say that, though…I don’t know if the economics work for the carriage companies — if that’s something they feel they could make enough of a profit to make it worth their while,” he said.

Chicago currently has three companies licensed to provide carriage rides in downtown Chicago. They operate roughly two dozen carriages, down from more than 40 in their heyday.

Chicago Horse & Carriage, the biggest company, could not be reached for comment on the proposal to phase out their licenses.

The Horseman’s Council of Illinois intends to fight any effort — either to narrow the temperature range for horse-drawn carriages or to ban them altogether from city streets.

Council president Paula Briney has also ridiculed claims that carriage rides are tantamount to cruelty to horses.

“They’re walking. It’s not like they’re running races or anything like that. Their body is equipped to work in those circumstances and weather conditions,” Briney said this week.

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