Two sides square off in debate over NYC horse-drawn carriages

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- The idea of banning horse-drawn carriages from the streets of New York City has been around since at least the 1980s, mostly pitting animal advocates against those in the iconic tourist industry.

9 May 2013
By Stephanie Slepian and Michael Sedon

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- The idea of banning horse-drawn carriages from the streets of New York City has been around since at least the 1980s, mostly pitting animal advocates against those in the iconic tourist industry.

Now, the battle is taking on political tones, with one group blaming City Council Speaker Christine Quinn -- the mayoral front-runner -- for failing to bring legislation to the floor that would eliminate the carriages outright, and for refusing to support a non-animal alternative.

That group -- New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets (NYCLASS) -- is one of the founding members of New York Is Not for Sale, part of a deep-pockets Political Action Committee that has funded television spots attacking Speaker Quinn's campaign.

"She's the speaker of the City Council so she decides what gets brought up for a vote," said Allie Feldman, lead organizer for NYCLASS, which recently met with the Advance Editorial Board. "I don't know why she isn't in support of just giving it a shot. She has nothing to lose."

Jamie McShane, a spokesman for the speaker, said she has discussed the proposal with the Central Park Conservancy, which "expressed serious concerns about the project."

"Based on these concerns, Speaker Quinn does not support this proposal at this time," said McShane, declining to elaborate.

The legislation, introduced in 2010, would phase out the horses over a three-year period. No Staten Island legislators have signed on.

In the meantime, NYCLASS has proposed a pilot program that would place one vintage-era car along the same route as the carriage horses in Central Park. A prototype modeled after the 1909 Pierce Arrow is under construction by the Creative Workshop in Florida at no cost to the city.

An economic study, conducted by Sam Schwartz Engineering -- led by the man known  as Gridlock Sam -- shows a full fleet would generate $33 million annually in city revenue, compared to $19 million from the horse carriages, Ms. Feldman said.

"We think it's inhumane to have a horse work in congested midtown traffic, where they're breathing exhaust fumes," Ms. Feldman said. "They live this nose-to-tailpipe existence where they have their nose right up against the back of a car. They can be hit by cars, trucks or buses. Horses are flight animals, so if they get spooked they just bolt."

Councilwoman Debi Rose (D-North Shore) backs the pilot, according to a spokeswoman. Councilman James Oddo (R-Mid-Island/Brooklyn) told the Advance last month that he sees no harm in testing the car but won't support an outright ban on the carriages, especially if it jeopardizes jobs.

Tours via electric cars can also have a presence in the outer boroughs, according to supporters.

"I think it would be ideal," said Susan Lamberti, Staten Island's representative to NYCLASS, whose efforts to ban horse carriages date to the 1980s, when she testified before former Mayor Ed Koch.

"It would be a nice way to ride to Snug Harbor or to the Zoo. There is so much to see. I think it presents a great opportunity, but my primary concern is getting the horses off the streets."

For its part, the Horse and Carriage Association of New York City said the claims made by NYCLASS are baseless.

"Why on earth would anybody who is in this business, because we love horses -- why on earth would we want to give up our partners for something mechanical because somebody else, who has never even been in our stables, thinks that there is a problem when there actually is not?" asked industry spokeswoman Christina Hansen, as she led an Advance reporter on a tour of the stables off the West Side Highway where the Central Park horses are quartered.

Ms. Hansen said the stables are larger than the 60 square feet required by law, are equipped with sprinkler and ventilation systems and have windows on all walls and ramps that allow the horses to move freely among three floors.

She said three stable hands are always on site and the horses, with five nine-hour workdays per week, are examined by a veterinarian four times a year. They sleep on beds of hay furnished for free by a New Jersey mushroom farmer who recycles the used hay into fertilizer.

"So there's always water, there's always hay, and they do get grain when they're out working," said Ms. Hansen, who is also a carriage operator.

She said she twice invited NYCLASS to visit the stables; Ms. Feldman said the group never received an invitation.

On the day the Advance visited, Pamela Rickenback, executive director of Blue Star Equiculture of Palmer, Mass., was picking up Lisa, a carriage horse who, after 20 years, was retiring to the organic farm, an old-age home of sorts for city carriage horses.

"Every horse is different, just like every human is different," Ms. Rickenback said. "Some of them start to get slower and they don't want to do it any more. So it depends on the horse. Some horses love it and love it forever."

The horses are required by law to have five weeks of consecutive vacation annually at farms upstate or in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Ms. Hansen said.

But Ms. Feldman countered that doesn't take into account a horse's workload during the remaining 47 weeks. She also said Blue Star has room only for three carriage horses, and most are sold for slaughter when they are no longer able to work.

"Any knowledgeable person would know that a horse doesn't need five weeks of vacation," she said. "They need daily turn-out. There are no pastures in Manhattan, so they spend their lives confined to the shaft of a carriage and the stable.

"They need time to graze, time to relax, time to socialize out in the open, and they just don't get any of that."


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