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Ald. Reilly proposes moving horse-drawn carriages to parks — and off streets

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Accused of cracking the whip on horse-drawn carriages in a way that could trigger Gold Coast traffic jams, downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) fired back on Thursday — by suggesting that carriages be banned from city streets altogether.

“It’s ironic that the industry raises concerns about traffic congestion when they’re one of the lead contributors to congestion in the Central Business District,” Reilly said.

“There is a tourism benefit to having horse-drawn carriage rides, but we need to re-evaluate where is the most appropriate place. New York City moved their carriage operators to Central Park to cut down on traffic disruption. We may need to take a look at that. Locations that could potentially work are parts of Lincoln Park and parts of Grant Park.”

The Sun-Times reported Thursday that carriage owners are predicting a rash of Gold Coast accidents and worse-than-normal traffic jams because of a Reilly-inspired city regulation that forces drivers to stop and wash the street whenever a horse urinates.

Arguing that horses are “not like automobiles that can be put in neutral,” they warned that carriage drivers forced to stop and spray would cause traffic jams and possibly lose control of their horses, endangering passengers and pedestrians.

They were even more outraged by Reilly’s suggestion that carriages be banished to the parks.

“Chicago is a city that depends on tourism to keep everybody paid and happy. Carriages are an integral part of tourism. If you restrict us to the parks, carriages will not be able to survive economically,” said Dan Sampson, director of Historical Noble Horse.

Debbie Hay, owner of Antique Coach & Carriage, said there’s not enough business in the parks to sustain the horse-drawn carriage industry.

“That’s asking us to pack up and leave downtown Chicago. I’d call it a day and 2011 would be the last year of carriages in Chicago,” she said.

Norma Reyes, commissioner of the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, noted that horse-drawn carriages “have been around a very long time” and offer locals and tourists a “unique way to experience” downtown sites.

“What used to be a more vibrant industry has dwindled down over the years and we certainly do not want to see them go away. We will continue to find ways to balance the needs of both the industry and residents,” said Reyes, whose department regulates the carriages.

Currently, horse-drawn carriages are banned from all city streets on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. They must stay off Michigan — from Wacker to Oak — between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. There is also a host of other time and street restrictions.

As for the city-imposed clean-up rule, Reilly acknowledged that it didn’t come out quite the way he liked, either.

“My preference would have been for the carriage operator to radio back to their headquarters to have a truck [shared by the industry] deployed to deodorize the location,” he said.

Reyes countered that the rule Reilly suggested was “not a workable solution.”

“So, we came up with a rule that was workable for the carriage drivers, addressed the issue and also took into consideration the safety of the horse, driver and pedestrians,” she said.

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