Compromise sought but elusive in NYC carriage horse debate
The fate of Central Park's horse-drawn carriages may come down to a compromise, but ideas floated to preserve the 300 drivers' jobs while ensuring the 200 horses' safety face hurdles.
Animal rights activists, the drivers' union and City Council members on all sides of the debate have indicated a willingness to discuss a resolution. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who once vowed an outright ban, has moved his deadline to year's end. He also has softened his rhetoric, emphasizing the goal of keeping the horses away from busy midtown traffic.
"We're considering a range of options that move the horses off our streets, safeguard the animals and protect the livelihoods of the men and women who provide carriage rides," de Blasio spokesman Phil Walzak said without elaborating.
The City Council has yet to introduce a bill, but some members say a solution could be building stables inside Central Park so horses wouldn't have to travel in traffic from their current West Side stables.
Another idea is to let the horse-carriage rides continue while giving a proposal to replace them with vintage-style electric cars a limited trial run.
"I've always believed that there has to be a middle ground here," said Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Queens), who is undecided. "I don't know that we have to get rid of the whole industry and put all these people out of work to save the horses."
He and Elizabeth Crowley (D-Queens) are among those who favor stables in the park, but Ulrich said the Central Park Conservancy "won't be happy."
Conservancy President Doug Blonsky last month told the Daily News he didn't want electric vintage vehicles in the park because they would endanger pedestrians. Neither do carriage drivers, who say their passion is horses.
Elizabeth Forel of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages opposes the vintage cars -- promoted by de Blasio and the pro-ban NYCLASS, or New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets -- on grounds they would add to car congestion and are too expensive.
Representatives of the union, Teamsters Joint Council 16, and of NYCLASS and PETA are now City Hall regulars. None will signal their bottom line for compromise, but all say they would like to seek a resolution.
The union said it seeks "to speak with the mayor and find a solution" so members can keep driving carriages. NYCLASS acknowledged "there are a number of different ways" to keep horses off streets.
Carriage driver spokesman Stephen Malone and Forel's group are among those holding a harder line.