De Blasio Officials Struggle Mightily to Justify Horse Carriage Plan to Council

Top officials from Bill de Blasio's office were short on answers when questioned over the his plan to restrict horse carriages and pedicabs.

Two horse-drawn carriages are ridden on Central Park West (Photo: Stan Honda for AFP/Getty Images).
Two horse-drawn carriages on Central Park West (Photo: Stan Honda for AFP/Getty Images).

“I don’t know.”

That was the refrain from a team of de Blasio administration officials asked for facts and figures to justify the mayor’s plan to corral horse-drawn carriages in Central Park. Their leader, Mindy Tarlow, director of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, insisted in her testimony in front of the City Council today that having the animals on city streets “negatively impacted public safety and quality of life”—but was light on explanations why or how.

“What you’re asking us to buy here is an empty bag with a hole in it,” said Queens Councilman Barry Grodenchik.

The numbers the officials had at hand didn’t help their case. The city has seen an average of three collisions between a vehicle and a horse cart annually in the past five years, and just four recorded injuries to the animals. Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Deputy Commissioner Daniel Kass admitted that no horses had died from crashes, and had no figures for how many had died on the job from any cause—nor if their death could be attributed to their work as carriage horses.

In the industry’s 160-year history, there has been a single as-yet unresolved case of reported animal abuse.

Ms. Tarlow insisted none of that mattered.

“I’m not sure that’s really the litmus test for evaluating,” Ms. Tarlow said.

Queens Councilman Rory Lancman disagreed.

“This is an extraordinarily safe industry for the carriage horses,” he said. “I don’t understand the urgency of making such an enormous decision.”

At times, the mayor’s panel responded only with a dumbstruck silence.

“Don’t everybody answer at once,” Brooklyn Councilman David Greenfield said, asking for what kind of study the city had conducted before making its decision to restrict bike-drawn pedicabs to area of the park north of 85th Street as part of the plan.

Like several of his colleagues, Mr. Greenfield seemed disturbed at the seemingly unwarranted intrusion into the pedicab industry. The other leading objections were the large costs and timeframe for the plan, which calls for the construction of a new stable on public property inside the park.

Particularly irksome for some council members was that the city only has a recommended location and not a confirmed one, and thus could not say which agency was currently quarterbacking the planning of the stable or whether parkland would be sacrificed.

The only piece of information readily available was that it would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 million.

“We are a little bit between a rock and a hard place, in having identified a place that we think is viable, without being able to say it’s definite,” Ms. Tarlow said, arguing the Council would have to approve the legislation before the location could become official and the process of contracting and construction could start.

For Brooklyn Councilman Carlos Menchaca, that wasn’t good enough.

“Essentially, this is a check, a blank check, at this point, right? There’s nothing really attached to it besides that something could happen, somewhere,” he said.

The mayor’s experts were also unable to say how many carriage rides occur in a year, how much of their time horse carriages spend outside or inside Central Park now, how many pedicabs operate in the park or where, whether anyone would lose work or money as a result of the legislation or how the city might soften their fall. Several council members marveled at the administration’s apparent lack of horse sense—especially given that the mayor had been calling for curtailing the carriage industry since before he was elected.

“Two years to prepare for this meeting. You knew this was going to come. This day was going to come,” Brooklyn Councilman Antonio Reynoso said. “What is a hearing if we don’t have any answers to these questions that are extremely important?”

De Blasio Officials Struggle Mightily to Justify Horse Carriage Plan to Council