As We See It

Joe Downtown: Horse-drawn carriages and Fremont East’s tug between locals and tourists

New transportation options Downtown cater more to out-of-towners than residents

Say what?

In the not-too-distant future, we’ll look back on today as the bygone era of Fremont East’s dalliance with locals.

It’s becoming more clear that the Fremont East Entertainment District is aiming toward the tourist trade and away from what was once envisioned—an urban magnet akin to State Street in Madison, Wis., or Mill Avenue in Tempe, Ariz.

It makes sense. For the foreseeable future, too few local residents live within walkable distance of the FEED to properly support its businesses. Tourists can fill the gap.

It wasn’t always that way. Fremont East used to be an area by and for locals. The shift comes into focus when looking at Downtown’s transportation options: Most are built for tourists, not locals.

“The Deuce,” the Regional Transportation Commission’s bus line for tourists, has been dropping off Strip hotel guests for a curious look at Downtown Las Vegas Boulevard since long before Fremont East was much more than empty buildings.

But at least if you’re a local and want to get to the Strip, the Deuce is there.

Not so for horse-drawn carriages.

Last week, the City Council approved routes for carriage rides on most Downtown streets from Main Street to Maryland Parkway and Stewart to Bonneville avenues. The city approved a horse-drawn carriage ordinance in 1997, when Downtown’s streets were empty day and night—except during rush hour, when government workers fled their urban offices as fast as they could to their suburban homes.

Downtown is a different place today.

The carriage rides won’t be allowed on Fremont Street, but they’ll still contend with side-street traffic, which is growing because there are so many more cars in the area. Carriages and cars will compete with other vehicles staged to take up valuable road space, too.

The city now has an ordinance on the books to allow the operation of pedicabs, human-powered carts pulled by a bicycle. Already, at least one entrepreneur is seeking city approval to transport people that way for a few bucks a ride.

I’ve seen a family or conventioneers on a platoon of Segways tooling around Downtown. Those three-wheeled Trikkes are out and about, and there’s talk of a trolley. Or more than one. Sources say some tavern/club operators bought a Disneyland trolley car that will cart people from one bar to another on Fremont.

Tourists will likely love this stuff.

The horse carriages, though, arrive with ready-made issues, some of which were outlined in a petition posted online Sunday (it had 3,473 signatures at press time).

Gina Greisen, head of Nevada Voters for Animals, wrote the petition, which reads: “Horse-drawn carriages in downtown Las Vegas are a tragic accident waiting to happen. Mixing horse drawn carriages with congested traffic, events that draw large crowds, lots of alcohol, the new Container Park, concerts and First Friday pedestrian and vehicle traffic is just dangerous, inhumane and wrong. And, this is VEGAS. Please help us stop this terrible idea.”

People who write petitions don’t typically sit idly by. While I don’t expect craziness, expect those carriage operations to be watched very carefully. Even in Las Vegas, you might see a protest or two.

Frankly, none of these options interests me very much. I doubt I’ll take a carriage ride. Ever. Trolleys are too touristy. I’d rather walk. And if it’s too hot, I won’t sit in a pedicab while a sweating driver pedals away.

There might, however, be a silver lining in all this for locals.

Project 100 is the multi-modal transportation business headed by Zach Ware of Downtown Project. It is supposed to offer Tesla vehicles with a driver, smaller electric vehicles, bicycles to share and maybe a helicopter ride for long-distance travel. If Project 100 is unveiled as useful, convenient and, of utmost importance, affordable, it will draw my interest.

Then again, I might not need it. If traffic truly does become snarled around Fremont East, I’ll just avoid it.

There are, after all, other places with less traffic to get food, a drink, coffee and services—staples for local residents—Downtown.

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover Downtown; he lives and works there. He is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded Downtown journalist, stationed at an office in Emergency Arts. His work appears in the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Weekly.

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