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City Provides Few Details on Carriage Horse Plans, Council Says

By Maya Rajamani | January 22, 2016 4:09pm | Updated on January 25, 2016 8:43am
 A carriage horse driver and his horse maneuver through Columbus Circle and down 59th Street on Jan. 18.
A carriage horse driver and his horse maneuver through Columbus Circle and down 59th Street on Jan. 18.
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DNAinfo/Maya Rajamani

CITY HALL — Days after touting an agreement to limit carriage horses to Central Park, city officials could provide few details to the City Council, including where in Central Park they plan to construct a new carriage horse stable or how pedicab drivers will be affected by extension.

NYC Parks Department general counsel Alessandro Olivieri, speaking to the City Council's transportation committee hearing focused on the proposed bill on Friday, said a city-owned building on the 86th Street Transverse was the “front runner candidate” for the stables, but said the department had yet to make any final decisions.

Mindy Tarlow, director of the mayor’s office of operations, said an environmental study is currently in progress, but said the city was “not in a state to confirm one [stable location] over another.”

“We do want to say affirmatively that we will not be taking up any current recreational uses of precious park land,” she said.”

Councilmembers including Mark Levine were dissatisfied with their responses.

“You’re asking us to vote on something not knowing in the park where the stables will go,” he said. “They could go in the middle of the great lawn, in theory.”

On Monday, the city and the Teamsters’ Union unveiled what they called an “agreement in concept” that would limit horse carriages’ operation to Central Park, reduce the number of carriages operating by more than half within two years, call for the creation of a new horse stable in Central Park and bar pedicabs from operating below the 85th Street Transverse as of June 1.

But on Friday, Councilman Dan Garodnick questioned the city’s proposed time frame for the carriage horse stable, which was slated to open in October 2018 as part of the agreement.

“I can tell you now it’s not going to get done, because the usual time frame [for a parks project] is three to four years,” he said. “If we’re not able to to this for our communities, how are we able to jump the timeline for this particular project?”

Councilman Carlos Menchacha pointed out the city projected it could spend approximately $25 million on the new stable, but said that with no details attached to the stable yet, voting on a bill would be writing “a blank check” to the project.

Councilmembers also grilled city officials about how many jobs they believed would be lost in the carriage horse industry were the current iteration of the bill to pass.

Tarlow said the city did not have a specific number to provide.

“The reason we don’t have a specific number is we have to wait for the ‘step down’ process to play out,” she said, referring to the plan to reduce the number of carriage drivers incrementally.

As the discussion shifted to the fate of the pedicab drivers and the proposed ban on drivers operating below 86th Street in Central Park, officials also acknowledged they could not provide data about how many pedicabs currently operate in Central Park.

Pedicab drivers maintain the restrictions could put many in the industry out of business.

“We will be addressing the pedicab issue and others like it [in] the environmental review. We are in the process of doing a study now,” Tarlow said.

Councilwoman Margaret Chin said since the bill was unveiled on Monday, she had received numerous calls from pedicab drivers concerned about their livelihoods.

“Why restrict [the pedicab drivers] now?” she asked. “Why all of a sudden put them into the mix, when I don’t think they were really involved in the discussion?”

Tarlow said the city currently has no compensation plan for pedicab drivers who could potentially be put out of business by the reduced operating space.

“I don’t know that we’re going to put people out of business,” she said.

“You really don’t think you’re going to put people out of business?” Councilman David Greenfield asked, to applause from over a dozen pedicab industry supporters seated in the balcony.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer called it "wrong" to make councilmembers vote on the bill when "too much is not known."

"The administration did a piss poor job here of defending their case," he said.

Testimony from representatives for the horse carriage industry, New Yorkers For Parks — who oppose the proposed Central Park stable — animal rights advocates and other constituencies was expected to continue well into the afternoon, with more than 100 people signed up to speak.