City Howl Help Desk: To Philadelphia carriage drivers: Clean up after your horses

Posted: August 17, 2011

ELEANOR MERCER'S favorite bike route is down Spruce Street. She took Help Desk on a private tour a few weeks ago, pointing out the landmarks of Society Hill. There's the sunsoaked Magnolia Tribute Garden, tucked away on Locust Street behind wrought-iron fences. There's Three Bears Park, where toddlers play on miniature swings and slides.

Then the tour came to a halt. Mercer grimaced, looking down toward her feet: Big splotches of horse manure caked the bike lane that Mercer holds dear.

Mercer said she's always biking into piles of horse droppings. It gets on her wheels and stinks up her tiny Fishtown rowhouse. The smell is overwhelming, she said. Often the droppings are old and petrified, but sometimes they're fresh, and that's when Mercer has to swerve out of the bike lane to avoid them. It's not easy to maneuver through traffic when there's manure in the way, she said.

Mercer called 3-1-1 to ask if any city service deals with this messy problem. She got bounced around from Animal Care and Control to the Health Department, where an operator told her the Health Department was on the streets, that very moment, making sure that the carriage drivers were cleaning up after themselves.

Mercer called that BS.

HORSE HUGGIES: Carriage companies are supposed to clean up after their own horses, so Help Desk called them to ask about their poop policy. Neither 76 Carriage Co. nor Independence Carriage Co. returned our calls, but we did speak to a carriage driver who knew about horse droppings.

The first line of defense? Diapers. A large bag hangs beneath every horse's behind, to catch what falls. But sometimes the bags are ripped or positioned too far from the horse. And if nature calls while a horse is turning a corner, the street is going to get messy, the driver said.

We also ran into Bastawi Ali, director of Olde City Carriage Co., out and about near Independence Hall. He told us the company hires someone to clean up after the horses, as required by the National Park Service permit every carriage company must obtain. The Park Service tickets companies that leave streets soiled, though it's difficult to identify culprits, said spokeswoman Jane Cowley. But it monitors only the streets around Independence National Historic Park.  

CLEAN UP AFTER YOUR HORSE: Can the city help Mercer out? Leaving horse dung on the street is illegal, but when we tried to find out whose job it is to enforce that rule, we got bounced back and forth between the Health Department and Animal Care and Control (a division of the SPCA with a city contract for animal care), both of which initially thought the other was in charge of horse-carriage regulations. Finally, we were told the SPCA enforces regulations on evenings and weekends, and the Health Department during business hours.

The reality, though, is that when it comes to manure, the laws aren't enforced. It's hard to prove which horse, and thus which company, dropped the bomb, PSPCA spokeswoman Wendy Marano said. She couldn't find any violations issued for manure in the agency's records.

When the city can't catch the horses in the act, responsibility for keeping the streets clean falls to the Streets Department. And the department said it does, spending $40,000 a year to clean and flush Old City every day, said spokeswoman June Cantor. It's not just about the manure, Cantor said: The area is generally grimy because it's a tourist zone with lots of pedestrian traffic.

This isn't good enough for Mercer, who said she sees old, caked droppings all the time. Since Help Desk doesn't think it's realistic for the city to hire horse-dung cops, or to scrub Old City Streets besides cleaning them, we have a message for all the carriage companies out there: Clean up your crap!

Juliana Reyes reports for It's Our Money, a joint project of the Daily News and WHYY funded by the William Penn Foundation. Have a concern about city services? Talk with us:, 215-854-5855, or @phillyhowl on Twitter. And tune in to our live chats, Wednesdays at 11 a.m. on

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