City Council Takes a Step Backwards, Bans Pedicabs in Loop

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Pedicabber Minku Sharma at the post-vote Rally. Photo: John Greenfield

At today’s City Council meeting, an ordinance regulating pedicabbers – and banning them from downtown streets – passed with almost no opposition. Operators say that the new rules will put them out of business, since they’ll be prohibited from operating in the Loop during rush hours, as well as Michigan and State, between Oak and Congress, at all times. The law, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised, goes into effect on June 7.

Alderman Tom Tunney (44th), whose ward includes Wrigley Field, sponsored the legislation. Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd) pushed for including the geographic restrictions after downtown business and neighborhood groups complained to him about what they perceive to be a pedicab menace.

In addition to the Loop ban, pedicabbers will be required to obtain a $250 annual license and a $25 vehicle decal. Pedicabs will have to be equipped with seatbelts and meet other safety standards. Operators will need to carry liability insurance and post their fare structure on their vehicle, instead of negotiating the price before or after a ride. The number of operators in the city will be capped at 200.

At a hearing on the proposal yesterday before the city’s licensing and transportation committees, Alderman Rey Colón (35th), not a committee member, noted the city has not done traffic studies indicating that pedicabs cause downtown traffic problems, so the decision to ban them is “subjective.” A Chicago Department of Transportation rep said CDOT feels the geographic restrictions are unnecessary.

Despite passionate testimony from some 20 operators and advocates, the ordinance passed in committee, opposed only by Alderman Ariel Reboyras, who called it a job killer, and Reilly, who wanted to see a rush hour ban in River North as well. Former CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein tweeted his dismay at the news:

Early this afternoon, the full council passed the ordinance with no discussion or voice vote. Alderman Danny Solis (25th) was the only no vote, according to spokeswoman Stacy Raker. “The ordinance will impose harsh restrictions on pedicab operators,” she said. “The alderman believes that we need to take another look at what these restrictions will do to the pedicab industry which is, of course, a green form of transportation.”

After the vote, Emanuel told the Sun-Times the ordinance is a step forward for the city. “We now have a regulatory architecture that provides some safety and a clear set of rules as it relates to safety so riders have that knowledge… If there’s other things we need to do as it relates to the industry, we’ll come back.”

Tunney, Reilly, and Colón didn’t return calls this afternoon, but Reboyras said he abstained from voting today. “I didn’t need to. I voted no in committee and that’s going to stand,” he explained.

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Alderman Reboyras speaks with pedicabbers after the meeting. Photo: John Greenfield

After the meeting, Reboyras joined a handful of dejected pedicabbers at a rally outside of City Hall, promising to advocate for them as they work to reform the ordinance. “I feel for the pedicab industry,” he told me. “These are jobs that we’re taking away from people, and I strongly support them working where they need to. I’m hoping that we can bring it back to committee and do an amendment.”

T.C. O’Rourke, a board member with the Chicago Pedicab Association, noted that City Council approved a plan on plastic bags at the meeting. “The mayor specifically talked about Chicago being the cleanest and greenest city in the country,” he said. “But at the same time, [the council] basically destroyed the pedicab industry here, one of the cleanest and greenest forms of transportation.”

He said that CPA doesn’t have a problem with the ordinance, except for the geographic restrictions, and they are exploring options for overturning them. He recently purchased a new pedicab for $5,000. “The value of that investment has been greatly reduced.”

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Zorayda Ortiz tries out T.C. O’Rourke’s new pedicab. Photo: John Greenfield

Zorayda Ortiz, who runs Pilsen Bike Tours, thought a letter she wrote to Solis asking him to vote against the ordinance might have influenced his decision. “These rules will drastically affect our income,” she said. “For them to say that this ordinance is increasing public safety is false. Pedicabs are very safe vehicles. If I’m going to be paying $275 a year in fees and licensing, I should have the right to operate on any street in the city.”

  • CL

    So if pedicabs don’t really cause problems, why are almost all of the aldermen in favor of the rush hour ban? Is the theory that they’re doing this in response to pressure from the taxi industry, or because a lot of their constituents are (rightly or wrongly) annoyed by pedicabs in traffic?

  • oooBooo

    The alderman all agree that their pinky rings should be kissed and they should get a cut of the action.

  • oooBooo
  • David Altenburg

    My theory is that the council agreed with the need for some regulatory framework and couldn’t be bothered to fix this one or wait for a better one. Not so much that they necessarily want to put pedicabbers out of business. They just don’t give a shit.

  • Chicago South

    I read the article. It was written by a right-wing group and published as an editorial, not as journalism. As it turns out, the British report actually found that plastic was worse than many alternatives. Next time you want to troll, at least get a better source.

  • oooBooo

    I figured someone would do an attack the source. However that one was chosen because it covers a number of bases, of which you made no counter argument. Next time you reply accusing someone of trolling instead of attacking the source you might want to actually attack its arguments.

    Furthermore, It is not uncommon for government reports have conclusions that conflict with the data presented within them. I have often used the data of a report or study but not its conclusion myself. So what you should do is show that the data has been misrepresented, perhaps with a cite to the report itself?

    But since you want another cite, here ya go:
    http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/paper-plastic.htm
    http://cascade.uoregon.edu/fall2012/expert/expert-article/
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/21/us/21sfplastic.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    It’s not like it’s hard to find or figure out. Idiots have been acting holier than thou with their bag choice for decades. And like most holier than thou americans they want the government to force everyone to choose as they have.

    What I object to is the loss of one of our few remaining choices. Paper or Plastic. I prefer both, since I reuse both for a variety of purposes.

  • Chicago South

    oooBooo, which argument? I’m happy to engage it. Every article you cite makes the same straw man: “paper or plastic?” I don’t think anyone thinks either is a good choice. I think you’re suggesting that banning plastic bags for particular kinds of stores is worse for the environment than not. As each “article” also states, there is very little serious research on how people actually behave in response to the bans, so we don’t know. Only a fool would think that banning plastic bags is going to solve anything in the long run. The question is what do we do next, now that we’ve reduced a noxious product’s presence in the system? Do we do something that’s also bad for the environment, or do we do something that’s an improvement? As the British study makes clear (and I’m only referencing it since you seem to think it’s a good study), there are alternatives that make economic and environmental sense. Now we have to figure out how to make those options happen.

  • oooBooo

    Did you see the comment I have before the cite? “Ban on plastic bags to be green? Not so much.”
    The additional cites also fit that comment.

    You’re the one who needs to project all sorts of things on to me because I’ve dared not believed your social myths. I’ve never read this British report and have no opinion of it. However that doesn’t mean someone can’t cite the data in it and come to a different conclusion from it.

    What to do? Why does everyone have to use government to force their opinions on to everyone else? Because they are lazy and/or can only conceive of violence as the way to achieve anything. What you do is, if you’re so concerned about it, is come up with an alternative that will catch on and do the work to get it to catch on.

    I’m old enough to remember a time before plastic grocery bags in the chicago area. In fact I was working in a grocery store when the switch was moving through. Every so often some self righteous person would demand paper while saying plastic was bad in some way…. I always wanted to say ‘a tree died for this bag’ but knowing that wasn’t the right thing to say to a customer I just bagged the groceries in paper bags as would be done for someone who just asked for paper bags. Never mind that I preferred the paper because it was much easier to get things bagged up well. Also there were the people who demanded plastic because paper bags killed trees. It was rather amusing.

    But why did plastic bags catch on? They were cheaper. Bag cost is a big thing, had to watch a video (VHS tape) when I was hired which included how to use as few bags as possible. Plastic bags are used because they are cheaper. they are cheaper because they use fewer and less expensive resources to create.

    So here’s what you do, come up with something even less expensive to use that doesn’t annoy customers.

  • Chicago South

    Of course I saw your comment. The problem was your citation was of a conservative editorial that made a straw man argument, so it wasn’t clear what you meant. I see your real issue is with government intervention. Well, we’re not going to solve an ideological aversion to particular kinds of public policies here. There are plenty of cheaper and environmentally friendlier alternatives. I suppose we’ll see what people think about them.

  • T.C. O’Rourke

    The restrictions on Michigan Av. and State St. are at *all times*, not just rush hours. There are problems, but they are behavioral, not inherent to the machines. Even without the ban, the remaining regulations and fines would make this ordinance the most onerous in the nation, much more than needed to eliminate bad operators.

  • oooBooo

    I don’t think you know what a strawman is. It is making an argument for someone else and then knocking it down. If you saw that in the article, please support that. Furthermore your “right wing” characterization is another thing. To a binary political person “Reason” will seem right wing one moment and left wing the next. But that’s because of a person who sees things in terms of left and right, not because of what they are reading.

  • Chicago South

    In each case, the articles do exactly that. Each leads with their own constructed argument of what people who don’t like plastic bags are supposed to argue: 1. the only choice is paper versus plastic and 2. that paper is better than plastic. However, none of the articles actually demonstrate that environmentalists think that — because they don’t think that.

    I’m not characterizing you as “right wing.” I said “your real issue is with government intervention” because you said “Why does everyone have to use government to force their opinions on to everyone else?” For all I know, you could be a libertarian, an anarchist or something else altogether. Political orientation needs at least a two axis scale.

  • tooter turtle

    Sure, it’s possible to re-use bags. I do it, too, sometimes. But there is no denying that plastic bags create a lot of litter on the street. I see lots of people come out of Walgreens or wherever, take what they bought out of the bag, and toss the bag on the ground. And, have you ever noticed how many plastic bags end up stuck in barbed wire fences around factories? I also hate them as a bicyclist, since they can get stuck under my fenders or in my chain and bring me to a halt (this can be dangerous in traffic). They are often hard to avoid on a windy day. I never see paper bag litter.
    What I like best is what I see when I am in western Europe, where stores typically don’t provide any kind of bag. You just bring your own. That’s what I usually do here, too.

  • Kevin M

    Could another motivation by the city have been to appease taxicab lobbyists who would like nothing more than to kill (or severely curtail) a growing competitor of theirs?

    Was the pedicab industry late to organize? I applaud their efforts, nevertheless, and hope they keep up the noise and outreach.

    I find it terribly ironic that on the same day the American Lung Association gives Chicago an “F” for its air quality, the city council crushes an emission-free transportation service.

  • BlueFairlane

    Aldermen like to look like they’re doing something, and this was something they could do easily. It’s not something that needed to be done, of course, but that doesn’t matter. It’s something.

  • Kevin M

    What happens if someone wants to take a pedicab on Critical Mass, and the ‘Mass heads in to a restricted area?

    On a broader view: like a lot of traffic laws, I wonder how well this restriction will be enforced.

  • oooBooo

    *sigh* show me the articles the Reason Foundation author mentioned did not say what he quoted them as saying. You need to support your charges.

    You labeled the article’s author or the Reason Foundation as “right wing”. It’s bad enough you’re doing ‘attack the source’ but to do it with ignorance of what the source is just compounds things.

  • oooBooo

    If you’re going to combat litter by banning things, you have a long list of things to ban. If you’re aiming to control human behavior through the methods used in grade schools, society will end up resembling a prison.

  • Adam Herstein

    Unbelievable. A huge step backwards for Chicago.

  • Chicago South

    Well, it’s hard to know what the Reason Foundation editorial is referencing because he doesn’t actually provide specific references. The British report is easy to find, but the others are far less specific. Even so, I’m 99% certain he’s citing this editorial (http://articles.latimes.com/2012/may/22/opinion/la-ed-bags-plastic-city-council-20120522 ), and it doesn’t actually say what he says it does. It uses the specific phrases he quotes, but not their in context or intention. In fact, my reading is that the “better options” the editorial board suggests are alternatives other than paper or tote bags, but they’re leaving it open ended. Even if you read the editorial as saying that tote bags are better, it certainly doesn’t say that paper bags are better, just that they could be an option for a fee. This reading is consistent with the British report he cities to support his argument, and therefore violates his straw man presentation of the environmentalist position: particular kinds of tote bags are a viable environmental and economic alternative to plastic bags.

    Anyway, you’ve got your own take and aren’t going to be swayed either way, so enjoy your perspective. My suggestion is keep an open mind and think about the bag ban as an opening for real change instead of just some government intrusion. Laws are only one small part of any change.

  • Kevin M

    Yeah, I feel like this is something I’d read about Naperville’s city council doing.

    What a farce this city’s democratic institution has become. The will of the people did not demand this ban. Some favors were owed to some special interest groups, and the pretty much the whole team “played ball” and pulled out their blind folds and rubber stamps.

    There should be consequences for bad policy-making. This suffucation-by-regulation against a popular, clean, job-generating, efficient local transportation industry is just the latest example of bad policy coming out of Chicago city council. The voters need to toss most aldermen out on their asses come next March.

  • Annie F. Adams

    Mayor Emanuel I respectfully disagree. This is NOT a huge step forward for the city. It is job killing, anti-bike and backwards. Terrible news. The loop is already a HORRIBLE place to bike. This just makes it worse.

  • I’m not sure what your or the article’s point is. No one disputes that plastic bags have less embodied energy, use less raw material and, due to typical landfill practices, possess no disadvantage when it comes to decomposition. In general, plastic is one of the most recyclable materials besides metals. The issue is that plastic bags keep ending up in our waterways and oceans where they wreck far more havoc than paper bags. Plastic bags (and plastics in general) make up a large portion of the great pacific garbage patch. Even more harmful, though, is when UV breaks down plastic into smaller pieces and it become easily consumed by marine wildlife (most notably turtles and other animals that dwell near the surface). Of course, better solutions would be to stop letting plastics end up in our water or actually pay money to filter and clean our rivers, lakes, and oceans. Is it a bit of political posturing to make the city seem “green”, sure. But in the absence of the resources and desire to do those items, imperfect solutions, like the plastic bag ban, are better than nothing.

  • neroden

    The problem is, basically, that people are litterbugs, and when you distribute single-use plastic bags, they litter them.

    If you don’t distribute the single-use plastic bags, people don’t litter them.

    Paper litter biodegrades so it’s not as big a problem.

  • To be clear, paper biodegrades when it is not in the landfill. Landfills generally do not allow biodegradation. It’s actually better to throw your banana peel or whatever under a bush in a city park than in the garbage. But yes, I agree with you, conceding that people will always litter, give them the least harmful materials to litter with. Or give them a cotton bag that they will reuse instead of littering with. One thing that should be mentioned is that a great deal of reusable grocery bags are made with recycled synthetic fibers. They share all the same benefits as disposable plastic bags with benefits of not becoming litter.

  • SP_Disqus

    If being annoyed by a pedicab in traffic is enough to get pedicabs banned, the next step will be to ban cars from road traffic because I can say with 100% certainty that every alderman and constituent has been annoyed with a car at some point while sitting in traffic.

  • oooBooo

    A wide variety of arguments are made by self righteous do-gooders to impose what they think feels best on to everyone else so yes, it is disputed. But what you are doing is expanding the issue to all plastics that are littered. If you are aiming to combat litter, even just plastic litter, by banning things you’re going to end up banning a lot of things.

    But let’s assume you are correct about all those things you mention, is this harm greater than the harm caused by the process and eventual littering of the paper bags and their degrading (which IME isn’t anywhere near as fast as people think it is)?

    A proper approach would deal with littering, not banning things because of what some person might do with it. But the idea of banning things because of what someone might do with it is about what we can expect in the land of the free these days.

  • oooBooo

    A plain reading of the LA times article and the response printed in the WSJ shows it was not misrepresented. The context is clearly those are examples of ‘better options’.

    To your closing paragraph, I oppose the use of violence, and thus I don’t favor banning things. People who think they can achieve utopia through violence like to ban things. Every ban is ultimately backed with government’s monopoly on legal violence. If you want to get rid of paper bags convince people not to use them. Create an alternative that works better for people so they voluntarily discontinue the use of plastic bags.

    People who strive for “real change” through the political process are just another form of totalitarians IMO. It’s like the people who move away from somewhere there there is too much government and control and then erect the same thing where they move to. The people who have a revolution against a controlling corrupt government and replace it with another controlling corrupt government. There’s no change because it’s not any different in principle. Utopia cannot be achieved at the barrel of a gun. So no, laws of this sort are not a part of change, they are part of the same old thing.

    If your concern is about liter, deal with the property rights violation, which is the act of littering.

  • Chicago South

    I learned long ago that when someone starts talking about “utopia,” I’m not having the conversation I thought I was. Clearly, we were never really talking about plastic bags. This isn’t the place for a political philosophical conversation that ultimately boils down to the merits of the social contract or other bases for political power, monopolistic or not. This will be my last response to this thread.

  • oooBooo

    Ahem, you moved this into a conversation of “real change” through “the law”. That is achieving a better world through force, what progressives have aimed to do since Woodrow Wilson. If you don’t want to discuss that, if you are ill prepared for such a discussion, or if you cannot defend your philosophical view, perhaps you should consider controlling your remarks.

    It was totally unnecessary in a discussion on the merits of bags to accuse me of not having an open mind because I did not see the “real change” you could achieve through “the law”. At that point all doubt was removed, that you were never having a conversation about plastic bags and as suspected from the beginning with your “right-wing” knee jerk, the actual issue was with regard to challenging the “progressive” view.

  • Is this a concession to the taxi industry after they seemed to get the short end in the latest ridesharing (i.e., Uber, Lyft) ordinance? (As of now, a vote on the ridesharing ordinance was delayed, so we’ll see). Seems like both of these ordinances, ridesharing and pedicab, promote automobile traffic. Known to be one of the biggest job killers of all.

  • SMHoffa

    “Automobile traffic. Known to be one of the biggest job killers of all.”

    That sounds completely made up.

  • Pete

    Lets face it, the only reason Streetsblog supports pedicabs is because they screw up vehicle traffic. They certainly do nothing for a more walkable city, as these things are a menace to pedestrians.

  • Should have said ‘lost productivity’. Traffic is a close tie in that category with reading / commenting on StreetsBlog posts.

  • SMHoffa

    “Lost productivity?” So are you saying that if people weren’t commuting that they would spend literally every minute commuting doing EXTRA work? I find that hard to believe.

  • Its a pretty common stat that us bike commuters and urbanites use. There seems to be an update to the study every year as to which city has the most lost productivity due to congestion. I recall Chicago taking the title once or twice. Id look it up for you but Im trying to get some work done.

  • SMHoffa

    Glad to hear you’re working hard. But I still think your productivity stat is complete BS.

  • SarahChicago

    Would love to see data supporting this ridiculous opinion. Car-(or taxi-) pedestrian danger vs. pedicab-pedestrian danger. Just try.

  • There is no actual data. It’s just a ridiculous opinion from someone trolling online. But the same “menace” mentality against pedicabs was on full display at Tuesday’s committee hearing, from people representing NIMBY interests from Mag Mile, River North, & Streeterville.

  • High_n_Dry
  • Folks, this long comment exchange on a topic that is at tangential to the original post is clogging up our inboxes. Per the Streetsblog comment moderation policy, future off-topic comments will be deleted. Thanks.

  • “Petterino’s Restaurant Hit by a Pedicab for Second Time in 2 Months” #ReplaceBikeWithCar http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2009-05-21/news/0905200904_1_restaurant-cab-chicago-loop

  • SMHoffa

    Congratulations on learning how to use google and posting your search results. None of those links answered what productivity is? You know what else wastes productivity? Literally any leisure activity, eating and sleeping.

  • High_n_Dry

    Do you want an economic definition of “productivity”? http://www.econlib.org/library/Topics/College/productivity.html Or do you believe you can make one up and the rest of the society will understand and use your definition?

    If you chose the second option, then you should probably see a medical professional because you sound delusional.

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