Neigh! Carriage drivers concerned about 52nd St. bike lane

BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH | The W. 52nd St. bike lane is worrying drivers. No, actually not car drivers, in this case.

A section — between the West Side Highway and 11th Ave. — of the new crosstown bike lane is currently being painted on the southern side of the street, which would cause cyclists to pass directly in front of the entrance and exit of the Clinton Park Stables, which houses 70 horses that work in Central Park.

Horse carriage drivers fear this section of the bike lane could increase chances of collisions between the animals and cyclists.

Some carriage drivers say, with alarm, that the bike lane is literally “under the nose” of  horses when coming in and out of the stable.

A horse carriage driver waiting in traffic on W. 52nd St. and 11th Ave. on his way to work. The new 52nd St. bike lane has narrowed the traffic lane, making it difficult for cars or carriages to pass one another. The hacks worry that the new lane worsens congestion on an already backed-up street in the mornings. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

“If you are driving a car and you see somebody coming, you can put your foot on the break,” said Coner McHugh, the stable manager at Clinton Park Stables. “That’s not always the case with a horse. It may take a step or two to stop it and that could be a step too much.”

Department of Transportation representatives recently visited the stable to to inform him about the forthcoming bike lane. McHugh said he expressed to them his fears about cyclists accidentally falling under a horse if there are collisions. But he said his concerns fell on deaf ears.

McHugh, an avid CitiBike user, added that he is not against bike lanes and wondered why D.O.T. did not instead choose to place the lane on the northern side of the street, bordering DeWitt Clinton Park.

A minivan tries to pass a horse carriage that is causing a small line of traffic to form behind it on W. 52nd St. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

A second concern is about about traffic bottlenecking in the morning since the available space for horse carriages to use on the street has become narrower.

“They are going to tie up traffic because there is no way for the cars to get around them now,” said Christina Hansen, a carriage driver and spokesperson for the horse carriage industry, about the roughly 30 to 35 horses that leave the stable each morning. The traffic jam could continue until 10th Ave., where the carriage drivers have their first chance to turn north toward the park

The 52nd St. lane is part of the third set of crosstown bike lanes being installed by D.O.T in order to increase safety for all roadway users. The bike lane stretches from 12th to First Ave. Community Boards 4, 5 and 6 have all approved of the lane.

According to a D.O.T. presentation, the agency decided to put an eastbound protected bike path on 52nd St. because its width could easily accommodate a bike path without requiring the removal of a traffic lane or parking spots. For similar reasons, the agency chose to site a new westbound bike lane along 55th St.

A horse carriage driver attempting to pass a car in traffic on W. 52nd St. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

“Prior to [the bike lanes’] installation, D.O.T. met individually with a number of stakeholders along the routes, including Clinton Park Stable, to explain the project and further understand their operations,” a D.O.T. spokesperson said. “We have made minor design adjustments to address concerns raised on this particular block, and will continue to monitor conditions along these corridors and can make changes as needed.”

D.O.T. did not go into detail in regard to the minor design adjustments.