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Big stink raised over horses urinating in Gold Coast streets

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Chicago’s horse-drawn carriage owners are raising a stink — and predicting a rash of Gold Coast accidents and worse-than-normal traffic jams — over a new city regulation that will force drivers to stop and wash the street whenever a horse urinates.

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

Now, Natarus’ successor, Brendan Reilly (42nd), has pressured the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection to crack down on something horse diapers can’t catch: urine — which Reilly claims leaves a lingering stench that impacts the quality of life for Gold Coast residents.

The new rule takes effect today and states, “Urine must be immediately diluted with a deodorizing, non-toxic liquid” that is “eco-friendly, safe, recyclable, and non-harmful to people and property.”

Drivers “shall be responsible for carrying and using the diluting liquid,” while license holders are responsible for providing it.

One complaint that triggered the new rule was filed by Arthur Handelman, an energy consultant who lives near Dearborn and Chestnut — a corner he says was drowning in urine last summer.

“No one was cleaning the street, and there were large pools of urine accumulating and festering. It was extraordinarily bad — bad enough that people would avoid the corner walking by,’’ Handelman said. “It seems like a small thing until you realize how prolific horses can be. We’re talking gallons.’’

But carriage owners branded the rule a classic case of City Hall overkill with potentially “disastrous” consequences.

“Can you imagine a horse around Michigan and Chicago on a busy Saturday night? The driver has to stop traffic no matter what and spray this material or get off and put this material down. Imagine what a traffic jam that’s gonna cause and what a safety hazard it will be,” said Dan Sampson, director of Historical Noble Horse.

“Horses are not like automobiles. You just don’t put ’em in neutral. You have to hold on to the horse with one hand with passengers in the back of the carriage and spray this stuff down. Maybe one time out of a hundred with passengers in the cab, the horse might get scared, run off and hurt passengers and things. This will be a disaster.”

Sampson argued that horse urine doesn’t have much of an odor, since horses are vegetarians and “don’t drink Coke or beer.

“We have a million dogs urinating on the grass and sidewalks, and they’re worried about 25 horses?” he asked.

If carriage owners have to stop and wash down horse urine, dog owners should be forced to do the same, said Debbie Hay, owner of Antique Coach & Carriage.

“You’re supposed to get off your carriage to clean it up immediately. That isn’t really a safe situation, is it? You’re sort of abandoning your horse and your passengers. It’s like the steering wheel of a car. You let go of it,” Hay said.

“We’ve had diapers on the horses forever. Now, you have to stop and clean up urine because there’s no way to catch it unless you catheter your horse.”

Effrat Stein, a spokeswoman for the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, said an early draft of the rule required drivers to “sprinkle the urine with an absorbent material, then sweep it up.’’ When drivers complained about the danger that would pose, the rule was modified to simply require them to “spray from a squirt bottle in the carriage and move on.

“The driver doesn’t have to get out of the carriage. There is no danger,’’ she said.

Reilly could not be reached for comment. In a newsletter e-mailed to his constituents, he insisted safety was the city’s “most important consideration.

Reilly’s newsletter called the new rule a legitimate response to persistent complaints about the “foul odors that linger on our city streets” after horses urinate.

Until now, residents had to wait for Streets and Sanitation to “power-wash the streets,” Reilly wrote, arguing cleanup should be the carriage industry’s responsibility.

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