The carriage horses of Central Park have been enduring the beginnings of another long, harsh winter. After years of trying to reform the industry, the time has come for New York City to turn the page, and finally embrace safer, more humane alternatives to the horse-drawn carriages.
London, Paris, Las Vegas, Toronto and Beijing -- New York City's chief rivals for tourism -- have all banned horse-drawn carriages in recent years, and with good reason. Our city's carriage horses work strenuous hours throughout the week and unlike the horses that plied the park a hundred years ago, today's horses travel on hard asphalt roads that wear down and damage their feet (ironically, many runners prefer the park's "bridle path" to avoid this problem themselves). A damaged foot means a carriage horse can't work, which puts it at risk of being sold off to highest bidder. As you might guess, there aren't a lot of happy endings.
Beyond these concerns, horse drawn carriages bring with them a whole set of practical problems that need to be considered. The pace of the carriages slows down traffic in the already-congested streets of our city, while animal waste that is often not picked up creates a public health and sanitation problem.
And because of the array of stimuli -- noise, trucks, buses, and cabs -- bombarding the horses, they can sometimes react in unpredictable ways, causing crashes and injuries to the drivers and pedestrians in the area. Late last year a horse traveling up Seventh Avenue was grazed by a passing bus. Frightened out of its wits, the horse brought traffic to a standstill. And earlier last year, a spooked horse ran across Central Park South against the traffic and sideswiped several cars before crashing.
There are better solutions out there. The City Council is currently considering legislation, Intro. 86, that would phase out horse drawn carriages while transitioning to electric cars that will provide a 21st century version of the traditional charming ride around Central Park. Passing this bill would enable the city to show a better face to the millions that pass through Central Park every year, while preserving a quintessential New York City experience and the jobs that come with it. And it is critical that if this legislation is passed we make sure that carriage drivers are trained to use the new electric so no jobs are lost.
We should not wait for the next exposé on horses being mistreated, or the next crash that leaves a New Yorker injured or worse. It's time for New Yorkers to rally around a safer, more humane alternative to the horse and carriage.