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City committee OKs temperature decals on horse carriages

A horse-drawn carriage turns onChicago Avenue from Michigan Avenue.   |  Sun-Times files

A horse-drawn carriage turns onto Chicago Avenue from Michigan Avenue. | Sun-Times files

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Updated: May 2, 2013 9:42PM

Chicago’s 25 horse-drawn carriages are prohibited from operating whenever the temperature rises to 90 degrees or above or plunges to 15 degrees or less.

The problem is, the general public doesn’t know it, so they can’t report it when they see it. Nor is the industry rule written into the city code that Chicago Police officers use to write tickets.

That’s about to change, thanks to a crackdown advanced Thursday at the behest of downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd).

The City Council’s License Committee approved Reilly’s ordinance requiring carriages to prominently display “How’s my driving?”-style decals declaring the temperature regulations and inviting the public to report violators to 311.

The decals would mean “literally millions of eyes on these carriages to make sure these animals are being treated properly. ... It doesn’t mean you’re automatically guilty. It means someone’s deployed to investigate the complaint and make sure the animal is OK,” Reilly said.

“This is not intended to indict drivers or suggest that this is a bad industry with callous people. We have fantastic taxicab drivers. We also have some folks who probably shouldn’t be behind the wheel. This is another way to hold carriage operators to a high standard.”

Horse-lover Matt McEwen said he’s alerted police to “dozens” of temperature violations, only to have carriage drivers “pretend” to return to the stables.

“Two hours later, they’re back out there. ... This puts the power in every Chicago resident [to say], `It’s way above 90 right now. This horse shouldn’t be working,’” McEwen said.

“A lot of horses have died from heat exhaustion, heart attack in other states, other cities. We’ve been fortunate enough in Chicago not to have such an incident — yet.”

Carriage owners generally supported the regulation but asked that the downtown temperature be measured closer to downtown, instead of at O’Hare Airport. Reilly vowed to pressure the city to use the reporting station at Northerly Island.

Carriage driver Donald Geldernick warned that the sticker would cause “confusion” and “harassment.” He noted that, even after a temperature violation, drivers are instructed to “finish the half-hour” ride, then park and rest the horse for 15 minutes.

“You can’t take a hot horse and go all the way back to the stable. You have to rest a horse. You give ‘em water, then go in there. It’s in the ordinance. It doesn’t say that on the sticker,” he said.

“So, the average Joe is gonna say, `The horse is out. It’s 90. It’s illegal.’ It’s not illegal. It’s illegal not to finish the ride you’re on, rest the horse, water it and go in. But it’s too complicated to say.”

Three years ago, Chicago’s horse-drawn carriage owners raised a stink — and predicted a rash of Gold Coast accidents and worse-than-normal traffic jams — over a Reilly-inspired city regulation that forced drivers to stop and wash the street whenever a horse urinates.

Carriage horses were already required to wear diapers, a legislative legacy of former downtown Ald. Burton F. Natarus (42nd).

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