HOLD YOUR HORSES
Alderman wants to narrow temperature range for horse- drawn carriages
Chicago’s roughly two dozen horse- drawn carriages would be prohibited from operating whenever the temperature rises to 80 degrees or drops to 20 degrees, under a change championed by a downtown alderman to appease animal- welfare advocates.
Four years ago, Ald. Brendan Reilly ( 42nd) muscled through a requirement that carriages prominently display decals declaring temperatures under which horses can legally operate.
Now, he wants to narrow that temperature range — from a 90- degree high and a 15- degree low or a wind- chill factor of zero to an 80- degree high, a 20- degree low or a wind- chill factor of 5 degrees.
“We want to protect these horses. Having them working in extreme temperatures seems inhumane,” Reilly said.
“These horses are already being worked much longer hours than they should be. But one way to limit this is to put greater restrictions on the temperatures. I’ve been hearing from animal- welfare activists . . . raising their concerns. The activists were hoping for a 75- degree maximum. I decided that a fair compromise would be 80 degrees.”
Horse- drawn carriages are wildly popular with tourists and a favorite with students who use them as a romantic interlude when they come downtown to celebrate high school proms.
Reilly acknowledged that horsedrawn carriages are a “really charming experience” for tourists. But he said, “I have a hard- time understanding how carriage horses can co- mingle with traffic and the exhaust fumes and buses and all of that.”
In 2011, horse- drawn carriage owners raised a stink — and predicted a rash of Gold Coast accidents and traffic jams — over a Reilly- championed regulation that forced drivers to stop and wash the street whenever a horse urinates.
At the time, carriage horses were already required to wear diapers, a legislative legacy of former downtown Ald. Burton F. Natarus ( 42nd).
But Reilly pressured City Hall to crack down on something horse diapers can’t catch: urine he claimed was leaving a lingering stench that impacted the quality of life for Gold Coast residents.
When carriage owners complained, Reilly suggested that car- riages be banned from city streets altogether and confined to Chicago parks.
On Thursday, the downtown alderman resurrected that possibility. He called the temperature change a “good first step.”
“When we talked years ago about the idea of banning these carriages from the streets, there was a tremendous amount of pushback from the horse carriage industry and their supporters and even some of the tourism promoters,” Reilly said.
“My personal preference would be for horses to operate in parks the way they do in New York. That won’t be considered this year. But I’m open to that idea in the future.”
Six months after Reilly championed the temperature decals, Mayor Rahm Emanuel moved to require horse- drawn carriages to pay higher licensing fees and jump through the same regulatory hoops as cabdrivers, including a test of geography.
That did not sit well with retired driver Dave Saunders, volunteer manager for the Illinois Horse Park Foundation that manages Historical Noble Horse, 1410 N. Orleans.
Saunders noted then that carriages work “on a very limited basis” — essentially from the Chicago River to Fullerton and from Lake Michigan to Halsted.
“If they start giving us a test of geography, do we need to know where the Museum of Science and Industry is where we never go, or how to get to Foster and Lake Shore Drive?” Saunders said then.
“Cabdrivers go 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is a very seasonal business. Most of the drivers are students or teachers. It’s a parttime position. They’re going over the edge in trying to regulate a business that doesn’t need regulation.”
At the time, Reilly was equally surprised by the geography test “given that the area where these carriages operate is rather small.”
Ald. Brendan Reilly says an 80- degree maximum temperature for horse carriages is a “fair compromise.”
Chicago has roughly two dozen horse- drawn carriages.
| SUN- TIMES LIBRARY