Mayor Bill de Blasio announced today he was cutting off the East and West Drives of Central Park north of 72nd Street to automobile traffic—but said that the new rule wouldn’t apply to the electric carts he hopes will replace horse carriages in the famous green space.
During his 2013 election campaign, Mr. de Blasio pledged to ban horse carriages, the bête noire of monied animal rights activists, “on day one” of his becoming mayor. Now some 500 days into his administration, Mr. de Blasio has yet to institute such a ban, but declared today he was closing most of Central Park and Prospect Park off to cars in order to improve safety and increase recreational activities in the spaces.
However, he promised an exception for the battery-powered vehicles envisioned as the futuristic beasts of burden for tourists. He noted that such contraptions would progress through the park at a far more gradual pace, and would pass through relatively infrequently.
“They’re very different things. What we’re talking about is vehicular traffic, which has a much higher rate of speed, and we have a lot more of them currently,” he said. “That would be a negligible impact because of the number of vehicles and because they would be going very slowly, on purpose, so that people can see. You know, that’s what they come here to do.”
Anti-equestrian advocacy group New Yorkers for Clean Livable and Safe Streets—better known as NYCLASS—invested heavily in the “Anybody But Quinn” campaign, which savaged former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, once considered the frontrunner to succeed former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Federal investigators are reportedly probing potentially illegal coordination between the ABQ effort and Mr. de Blasio’s campaign, thought the mayor has denied wrongdoing.
The Observer learned last year that NYCLASS is furious with Mr. de Blasio’s failure to push a bill banning carriages through the Council, where such measures have faced stiff resistance from the Teamsters union, which represents the carriage drivers.
Despite the delays, Mr. de Blasio nonetheless reaffirmed his commitment to putting the horses out to pasture and bringing in a high-tech alternative today.
“What we aspire to do is to create a small, modest industry with the replica electric cars, or some other good alternative, that would achieve for tourists the same kind of things that the horse carriages do today,” he told reporters.