By Trevor Busch
Taber streets may soon become a lot more friendly to horses after town council has moved to liberalize restrictions in the Traffic Control Bylaw.
On June 10, council had discussed concerns about riding horses within town limits along 80th Avenue, and had unanimously passed a motion directing administration to bring forward Traffic Control Bylaw 6-2005 to the next regular council meeting in association with a discussion about the issue.
“Where this comes from is, probably about three weeks or a month ago now, we received an email that I was CC’d on — I believe it was actually sent to the chief of police (Graham Abela) — indicating a bylaw officer had stopped some people that were riding on 80th Avenue,” said CAO Cory Armfelt at council’s June 24 meeting. “That was sent by the executive director of the Taber Exhibition Association relating the query or concern, that we may have changed our enforcement of this component of the bylaw. After discussion with the police chief, there has been no change in the town’s enforcement of this. It’s kind of unless they’re causing some sort of disturbance, to look the other way on this matter. I think it was just the conversation had with those riders, that they are doing something that’s against the bylaw, and they should be aware of that. I don’t think they were told to stop, I think it was more of an awareness conversation, if anything. Although I wasn’t there, no tickets were issued. I think it was just an awareness conversation with the riders. That email conversation precipitated this coming to council’s attention.”
Section 15.09 of Traffic Control Bylaw 6-2005 currently states “no person shall ride, drive, walk, any horse or any other animal, with the exception of small pets on a leash, in or on any sidewalk, trailway, boulevard, park, highway or any other public place within the Town of Taber.”
In a caveat to the above included as part of the bylaw, the provision shall not apply to rodeos, or parades within the town or “other activities approved in writing by the CAO and during such activities, that the driver or any other person in charge of any horse drawn vehicle on a highway shall remain upon such vehicle while in motion or shall walk beside the horse drawing such vehicle.”
“It seems to me, if you’ve got a bylaw and you’re not going to enforce it, why have that in the bylaw?” said Coun. Garth Bekkering. “I personally don’t have a big issue with people riding a horse on 80th Avenue. I’ve got a big issue with horses being ridden on the street, or downtown, unless it’s a parade. So in order to facilitate people being able to (ride) on 80th Avenue, shouldn’t the bylaw be changed?”
“I guess that’s open to interpretation,” replied Mayor Andrew Prokop.
Schedule “D” of the current bylaw (Schedule of Fines) lists a penalty of $57 for violations of Sec. 15.01 (no person shall ride a bicycle having a wheel diameter in excess of 40 cm on any sidewalk except where permitted by a sign) and 15.02 (no person shall ice skate or toboggan upon a roadway) but lists no penalties for violations of Sections 15.03 – 15.08, as well as the aforementioned Sec. 15.09 which prohibits the riding of horses within the boundaries of the municipality except under specific circumstances, such as a parade.
“I actually investigated this a little bit further, I spoke with the bylaw enforcement officer in Coaldale and asked them what bylaws they have in place for horses,” said Coun. Jack Brewin. “What they have is no horses are allowed on public sidewalks, pathways or boulevards, public parks, anything like that. But they do allow them on the streets and back alleys. I would like to go with alternative three (allow the riding of horses with specific provisions) as a motion on this, with specific rules about cleaning up after they make a mess anywhere, or they must carry equipment with them at all times to clean up any poop or anything like that. I think it’s part of Taber tradition, is horses, and I don’t mind seeing horses riding around.”
Coun. Mark Garner was concerned if any decision to remove restrictions might result in potential liability issues for the municipality.
“If we were to do that, how does that impact our liability? If we have a runaway horse downtown, who is going to be liable if somebody gets injured? Is it the town? Or is it the owner of the horse?”
Brewin appeared unconcerned by such considerations.
“I would suggest the owner of the horse, it’s his animal, just as if an animal gets out on the highway in the middle of the night, if they get hit it’s the owner’s responsibility.”
While in general agreement with the proposal, Coun. Joe Strojwas signaled a need to restrict horses from the town’s busiest streets in the downtown core.
“Actually, I’m in favour of allowing horses in town as well. I’m not quite sure — it’s a process that needs some determination — but perhaps maybe not specifically in the downtown core, but anywhere else in town I would be in favour of. We’ve got an active Taber Exhibition Association out there, and they do ride out there, and occasionally they want to take them elsewhere — whether they’re heading out into the coulees or wherever — I think we could structure the bylaw to accommodate this.”
Coun. Louie Tams concurred.
“I totally agree with Councillor Strojwas, I think it’s just part and parcel of being part of a small town with a cowboy heritage. I would have no objection if they rode horses in town, as long as they kept them out of the downtown core.”
Prokop was less enthusiastic about the idea, suggesting the town would be treading “dangerous ground” by removing all restrictions on horses throughout the municipality.
“The liability side is a concern obviously. If you look at a special event, a parade, a rodeo out at the Agri-Plex location you expect that possibility, or potential problem. But anywhere that the public has access to, any other time of the year — we’re treading on dangerous ground unless we have some serious restrictions.”
Despite the best intentions of most responsible horse owners, bad apples will spoil the bunch, contended Bekkering.
“I am in favour of perhaps horses being ridden on 80th Avenue, maybe even the coulees, where there’s very light traffic and no residential areas, but I’d hate to see horses ridden for miles and it not being cleaned up. Because that’s going to happen, sure as ‘shootin’.”
Brewin agreed with keeping the animals off the community’s busiest streets, but dismissed concerns about manure or other problems.
“Kids look up and see the horses, they’re excited, it’s good for town spirit I think. I would agree with the downtown, perhaps not allowing it on the busy streets, but I think overall horse owners are fairly smart when it comes to what they know their horses are capable of, and where they can and can’t take them.”
Driving the discussion into a whole other area of consideration, Strojwas would advocate for allowing off-highway vehicles to be operated on streets throughout the municipality.
“I don’t see a problem. It’s got to come back to us anyway for final reading. Perhaps while they’re looking at it maybe they could include golf carts in there, too, so that they can drive around town, too, because I always get lots of concern from individuals that drive golf carts. Maybe it’s something that perhaps could be looked at.”
Prokop still had concerns regarding potential liability.
“I’m just wondering about the legal opinion side, the liability side, that does seem to be a concern here.”
Strojwas was dismissive of this argument.
“I don’t see why, whether it’s a motorcycle, a bicycle, or a car, or a horse, whether there should be a legal opinion required. There’s an individual in control of that vehicle or horse or whatever, the onus lies upon them to carry the adequate insurance. I don’t see why we would require a legal opinion.”
“Does a horse owner carry liability insurance for potential hazardous situations? Is that what you’re suggesting?” countered Prokop.
“If they don’t, perhaps they should,” replied Brewin.
“There’s a requirement for any vehicle operation to have insurance, but I don’t believe there’s a requirement to have liability insurance on your trusty steed,” concluded Prokop.
Following discussion, council voted 6-1 to direct administration to draft an amending bylaw to amend Sec. 15.09 of Traffic Control Bylaw 6-2005 to allow the riding of horses within town limits (with specific provisions); and to investigate the approach of adjoining communities. Garner voted in opposition to the motion.