April 16, 2015
By Stephanie West
New York, NY – That was the message Central Park’s carriage drivers were sending on the Upper West Side Wednesday morning April 15th. Carriage drivers were leafleting constituents of Council Members Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal, who support a proposal that would ban the historic carriages from Central Park – and replace them with electric touring cars.
“Just what we need, more cars in Central Park,” said carriage driver Adrian Marrs. “Council Members Levine and Rosenthal have been telling Upper West Siders that they want to reduce the number of dangerous cars in Central Park. Their constituents have a right to know the whole truth.”
The carriage driver’s leaflet, which they handed out at the 72nd Street and 116th Street subway stations during rush hour, includes a cartoon depicting Levine and Rosenthal gleefully speeding through the park, as carriage horses, cyclists, and pedestrians diver for cover.
The electric touring car is the brainchild of real estate developer and parking magnate Steve Nislick, who has bankrolled the campaign to ban horse carriages in favor of cars. This 7,500 car would cause many problems for pedestrians in the park. In addition, the Nislick plan would mean cars in the park on weekends for the first time in half a century.
The car-for-horse swap saw its legislative embodiment in Intro 573, put forward by Mayor de Blasio and introduced in the City Council by Council Member Daniel Dromm last December. Levine and Rosenthal quickly signed on, which left carriage drivers and park safety advocates scratching their heads.
“We are wondering how Steve Nislick convinced them to back this idea, which takes us in the wrong direction of more cars, and more dangerous cars, says carriage driver Christina Hansen”.
Hansen and Marrs, like all of Central Park’s carriage drivers, are members of Teamsters Local 553. The union has put up a vigorous fight against the attempt to ban the industry, staging rallies at City Hall and building an impressive coalition of labor unions, animal advocates, and editorial boards. Three hundred families are employed in the industry, driving carriages and caring for horses.
Those speaking out against new and unsafe cars in the park includes the Central Park Conservancy. Doug Blonsky, the conservancy’s CEO, told the Daily News last April that “Forty million people visit Central Park each year, including runners, bicyclists, kids and dog owners. Adding vehicles to the mix will make the park less safe for all of them and increase congestion.”
But conservancy opposition has not stopped Nislick, Levine, and Rosenthal. A City Council vote is expected sometime this year.