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Aldermen move to ban pedicabs from downtown streets

A pedicab from Chicago Rickshaw Company Navy Pier. | Courtesy Chicago Rickshaw

A pedicab from the Chicago Rickshaw Company at Navy Pier. | Courtesy Chicago Rickshaw

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Updated: June 1, 2014 6:33AM

Chicago pedicabs would be capped at 200 and banned from Michigan Avenue, State Street and the Loop during rush hours, under a crackdown advanced Tuesday that, pedicab owners warn, would rob them of their most lucrative business.

During hours of testimony that preceded the vote, pedicab owners accused the City Council’s License and Transportation Committees of “discriminating” against pedicabs.

They noted that cabdrivers and horse-drawn carriages have unlimited access to Chicago’s showcase streets and that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has installed protected bike lanes on downtown streets.

To do otherwise for the estimated 400 people trying to eke out a living driving pedicabs is unfair and threatens to destroy a popular form of green transportation, they contend.

“Not allowing me . . . to operate without restrictions would only kill my business — to the point that I would just be forced to move on to another venture. I would basically be forced to sell my cabs and start another business if I cannot operate on these two iconic streets here. This is where the tourists are. This is where the Chicagoan locals are. [About] 300,000 people walk up and down this street,” said Antonio Bustamante, owner of Kickback Pedicabs.

T.C. O’Rourke, a board member of the newly-formed Chicago Pedicab Association, said Michigan Avenue, State Street and the Loop are “where our customer base is” and where passengers want to go.

“I don’t know why anyone would want to take a pedicab tour if the couldn’t see the Mag Mile. It’s something that our city is known for. It also makes it virtually impossible to navigate the largely one-way street grid that was designed around these two major roadways,” he said.

Zoraida Ortiz, owner of Pilsen Bike Tours, said the argument that pedicabs slow downtown traffic is “completely false. . . . We go faster than a horse carriage. If they’re allowed downtown, we should be allowed downtown.”

Ortiz noted that pedicab driving is an “income seasonal job” coming off a brutal winter where business came to a standstill.

“We are not making that much money. If you create all of these regulations as far as licensing fees and tickets and impounding cabs, it will not make this a very lucrative job and the city of Chicago will lose a lot of jobs at a time when we need to create more jobs,” she said.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) cast one of only two votes against the ordinance on grounds that it does not go far enough to address “real traffic and public safety concerns” raised by local police commanders.

“There should be morning and evening rush hour restrictions for pedicabs in the Central Business District, north of the Chicago River. Under the current proposal, those downtown rush hour restrictions only apply to the CBD south of the Chicago River in the Loop. They do not cover the area north of the Chicago River where, in some cases, rush hour congestion is even worse,” Reilly said.

Reilly also warned that the new regulations would be “burdensome for police officers to enforce” in the 1st and 18th police districts.

“That is a concern, considering the myriad issues our police officers must handle during the warmest weather months downtown — the very same months pedicab drivers seek to operate downtown,” he said.

“I would prefer police manpower remain focused on maintaining visibility and safety . . . for local residents and visitors — rather than chasing pedicabs all over the CBD when bad actors in that industry ultimately break these new rules.”

The ordinance championed by Wrigleyville Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) would require pedicabs to purchase $250-a-year licenses, but cap number of pedicab decals at 200. Pedicabs would be banned from both Michigan Avenue and State Street from Congress Parkway to Oak Street and in the Loop during rush hours.

Pedicabs would also be required to: post their fares; meet rigid safety standards including passenger seatbelts; face pedicab impoundment if they violate city rules and provide proof of workers compensation insurance. To qualify for a license, drivers would have to be at least 18 years old. They would be prohibited from driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or blocking pedestrian or vehicular traffic.

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