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City Council votes to banish horse-drawn carriages

Starting Jan. 1, carriage rides popular with tourists, newlyweds and prom-goers but criticized by animal rights activists will be banned.

Two horse-drawn carriages wait along Pierson St., near Michigan Ave. l Keith Hale~Sun-Times
The Chicago City Council voted Friday to van horse-drawn carriage rides as of Jan. 1.
Sun-Times file

It’s the end of the road for Chicago’s much-maligned horse-drawn carriage industry.

Starting Jan. 1, carriage rides popular with tourists, newlyweds and prom-goers but criticized by animal rights activists as cruel to horses and dangerous to motorists will be banned after a City Council vote Friday.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) has said he “spent the better part of a decade trying to regulate” the industry and persuade carriage operators to “treat their animals in a humane way.” He even offered to shift the horse-drawn carriage industry to Grant Park.

When the answer was no and violations continued, Reilly said he had no choice but to banish horse-drawn carriages from the streets of Chicago.

“There are folks that have an issue with this industry entirely related to traffic and public safety. There are others who care about whether these animals are being treated in a humane fashion. For me, it’s a combination of both,” Reilly told reporters in March on the day the ban was approved by the License Committee.

“I grew up surrounded by farms and horses. They’re bred to work. But they were not bred to be sucking gas fumes from the back of CTA buses and comingling with cement mixers. That’s not humane treatment of animals. They do not belong in downtown busy traffic. In other cities, we’ve seen people and animals killed because they’re co-mingled with traffic.”

Chicago has only three companies and 10 licenses are left. That’s down from 60 licenses at the industry’s peak. It shows “people are voting with their feet,” Reilly said.

What about the loss to newlywed couples and prom-goers who view a carriage ride down Michigan Avenue at sunset as romantic?

“If you enjoy exploiting an animal in the middle of busy traffic, I guess that’s a really fun thing to do,” Reilly said, tongue firmly in cheek.

“I’m not sympathetic. If you want to do that, go to the suburbs and rent a horse.”

PETA President Ingrid Newkirk called the vote a “banner day for overworked horses” in Chicago.

In a statement, Newkirk said those horses will “no longer be forced to pound the pavement through extreme heat, thunderstorms, or blizzards,” often while “deprived of even a drink of water, as the Chicago Alliance for Animals has documented for over three years.

“We have high hopes that this kinder, carriage-free city will influence others to follow suit, including New York — where a horse used for carriage rides died in Central Park earlier this year,” Newkirk said.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) has argued Chicago has been “fortunate” to have avoided “some of the more horrific collisions” that have taken place in other cities involving horse-drawn carriages.

“When you take a large, slow-moving object and put it downtown on Michigan Avenue, Chicago Avenue or inner Lake Shore Drive during peak traffic periods, you’re clearly taking a risk,” he said.

Tony Troyer of the Horseman’s Council of Illinois has accused aldermen of unfairly targeting an industry that has “more regulation than any other state and city” and a lot more than pedicabs.

Larry Ortega, owner of Chicago Horse and Carriage, has also poked holes in the animal cruelty argument.

“Even though there are city, state and federal laws clearly stating what is animal cruelty, there has never been one horse driver or owner arrested operating on the city streets of Chicago,” Ortega has said.

“To think that the city is fine for a mounted police horse, but not a carriage horse is blatantly hypocritical.”

Ortega has noted Chicago’s electric scooter pilot triggered over 300 hospital visits. In 40 years, the horse-drawn carriage industry “can’t even touch that number,” he said.

“In reality, statistics show that we are the safest form of transportation or ride service in Chicago,” he said.