City’s Horse-Related Changes to Central Park Called ‘An Illegal End-Around’

A horse and carriage at Grand Army Plaza at the Southeast entrance to the park. Orange cones behind it show one area where the city is doing construction.

By Carol Tannenhauser

The city is reconstructing a section of Central Park to accommodate horses and carriages, but preservationists and a top former parks official say they’ve gone too far — and potentially broken the law.

It’s just the latest skirmish in the six-year war between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the horse-and-carriage industry.

The two sides have been tussling over whether the Department of Transportation (DOT) has the right to enact a rule moving the carriages from Central Park South between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, where they have stood for 160 years, to three newly created loading “stations” inside Central Park, which is now car-free. The question has taken on a new urgency as the city takes out medians and does other construction work in the south end of the park.

Cones where work is being done to prepare for horse and carriage loading on the East Drive of Central Park.

The carriage drivers fought the rule in Manhattan Supreme Court last year and lost. But now critics say that the DOT skipped an important step as it rushed to implement the new arrangement. They say the DOT tore up medians in Central Park, a designated landmark, without getting the approval of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).

“We learned of this last week, have inspected and the DOT is indeed removing Belgian blocks and altering the median,” emailed Sean Khorsandi, executive director of Landmark West, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting Upper West Side landmarks from “insensitive change and demolition.”

“Any changes in Central Park, a Scenic Landmark, must go through the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) for at least an advisory report…or a full decision and subsequent permits,” Khorsandi explained. “It is our understanding that this did not happen, and I was immediately in touch with the LPC’s enforcement division. I have also alerted other colleague groups who are monitoring the situation. Work thus far appears to be reversible, but it is important to not set a precedent that some do not need to follow procedures while others do. Central Park is irreplaceable and impacts to its physical fabric are as important and should be carefully considered just as deleterious impacts from out-scaled development must be assessed. Central Park is a public asset for all of New York, not simply another right of way to be paved.”

Meanwhile, the carriage drivers have won the right to reargue their case against the move into the park on March 1st. Their opposition seems, at first, counterintuitive. Isn’t it better for the horses to stand in the shaded park, away from the noise, fumes, and threats of traffic?

”This is not about the horses or improving traffic on Central Park South,” said Christina Hansen, spokesperson for the horse-and-carriage industry. “This is about the mayor fulfilling a campaign promise to a small group of very wealthy donors who want to see this done.”

She is referring to NYCLASS, a nonprofit organization that donated heavily to de Blasio’s 2013 campaign, and lobbied him hard to ban the horse-and-carriage industry completely. The mayor wasn’t able to do it legislatively, so, Hansen says, he found a way to hurt their business by removing them from the sight of potential customers. NYCLASS is also pushing the City Council to pass legislation to drop the temperature at which horses can work to lower than the 90 degrees it is now.

“This is death by a thousand cuts,” Hansen said.

The Department of Transportation sent WSR the following statement:

DOT began conversations with LPC this summer regarding planned work in the park and obtaining an advisory report. This work will result in minimal geometric changes to facilitate the new horse carriage rules and will have no impact to the roadway configuration. The median we are currently working on is not original or central to the Central Park design. We are currently working with LPC to finalize the details of our application for the advisory report.

“This is literally putting the carriage ahead of the horse,” said Adrian Benepe, former Parks Commissioner under Mayor Bloomberg, in a phone interview with WSR. “The median was there when Central Park was designated a historic landmark in 1974. What the City did in ripping it up without doing any of the necessary regulatory or community board reviews is essentially illegal. They have certainly created the grounds for a lawsuit. It’s an illegal end-around,” he concluded. “We need a penalty flag.”

Photos by Carol Tannenhauser.

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 20 comments | permalink
    1. michael says:

      What an amazing story!!! I have little doubt that this will get picked up by a larger source. And when it does, I truly hope WSR and Ms. Tannenhauser get the credit deserved for this work. Terrific reporting.

    2. Rodger Lodger says:

      It’s hard to get these details straight when you’re out there running for president.

    3. UWSmom says:

      Thank you, Landmark West, for keeping an eye on our precious park, and for holding the mayor accountable. It was clear to me long ago that the mayor is only interested in helping his real estate developer donors get their hands on the hansom cab carriage house property. Follow the money!

    4. Shelley says:

      This absolutely is about the welfare of the horses. They should not be exposed to heavy, noisy traffic and pollution for hours every day in every weather condition imaginable. This solution at least gives them a better quality of life, which I’m sure everyone would agree they deserve.

      • Kathy Smock says:

        Wrong. The horses are highly regulated and well cared for. I know what a content horse looks like (I care for about 22 every day), do you?

    5. Lopym says:

      The only reason I voted for DeBlasio is because he promised to rid the park of horses. Being a true position he of course did not do that. I am not rich but I don’t think we need horses in NYC.

      • chris w says:

        Those opposed to horses in the park… what do you think happens to them when they are not there? Does someone take them home as house pets? The Amish who use them for labor and then sell them when they don’t do farm work any more will then sell them to much worse places. Be realistic.

    6. Billy Amato/ W. 80th St. Block Association says:

      I’m not for horse and carriage but this would probably be the best that New York City can offer…just get them off the streets (Central Park South).

    7. Rachel says:

      Thank you for sharing, I have followed this issue closely and it is incredibly frustrating. This is not in the best interest of the horses. First, from a horse care perspective, East Drive is not flat, and therefore is less good for the horses to be standing on while they wait. Second, the large majority (if not all) of the accidents with carriage horses have happened traveling from the stables – not waiting on CP South. There was talk in the past of them erecting a barn within Central Park for these horses but it was shot down. Third, these are working horses who have been trained to pull carriages and walk in the streets. NYCLASS is focused on real estate and the stables are in areas that are now highly disireable. They do not have any history of actual animal protection. “Death by 1,000 cuts” is right. The carriage horses and their care is regulated, their barns are inspected, they have required vacation, and limited work based on the weather; which is more than can be said for service animals, working farm animals, or even show horses! This is not in the best interest of the horses, and if they really want to get rid of the carriages they should phase them out slowly as horses move into retirement age, not slowly cut off the income the hacks can earn until the horse care is comprised.

    8. Bradford says:

      Ironically, Central Park was largely built for carriages. In the 1860s, between a third and two-thirds of all people entering the Park arrived in carriages. And while the Park welcomed everyone who could afford to get there, Park builders understood that wealthy carriage owners had the political muscle to get continued funding for Park construction. I’m all for animals rights, but the idea of sending horses to the knacker so they don’t get too warm in the summer is bizarre. Meanwhile, I strongly support this court challenge. Alterations on this scale w/o a hearing process is destructive on many levels.

    9. fritz mueller says:

      A pinnacle of hypocrisy: the horses are healthy and beautiful, are loved, and are, I bet, happy to work. How about all the little poodels and schnauzers with their noses in the dirt, even in most congested Midtown? How disgusting – now that’s perhaps animal cruelty.

      • Charles says:

        Yeah, I’m sure they love hauling obese tourists around the park in ninety degree heat in midsummer.

        It’s about time this ridiculous industry was scrapped. It’s outdated, cruel and utterly unnecessary. And those of you who think these horses have no alternative but to be put down or sold to the Amish, there are plenty of sanctuaries for these animals.

    10. Data-Samtak Susan says:

      Thank you, Ms Tannenhauser. Horse welfare is not the priority, here. Cutting out the carriage horse industry is #1. Without work, the horses will be sold then their empty stables will be sold to developers. Get the picture? NYers like the carriages and horses. This is just one more way that government is illegally destroying 2 iconic landmarks: Central Park and carriage horses. “Death by 1,000 cuts” for the horse industry and Central Park, itself. Follw the money, indeed.

      • Evan Bando says:

        To DSS, you say, “NYers like the carriages and horses.” That’s a gross generalization. Frequent users of the park whether for jogging or bike riding or who just like to sit on a bench might have a different opinion. There are long stretches of the thankfully car-less roads in the park that are befouled and reek of horse manure. And why? So tourists can be told that this or that movie was filmed “right over there” or that apartment sold for $95 million? The horses can be sent to sanctuaries or they can be reassigned to dragging other people around another park somewhere outside of NYC. It’s time for the pointless horse and carriage business to go away. And please don’t talk about the lost jobs. If NYC can weather the loss of 25,000 Amazon jobs, then, the city can handle the loss of the buggy industry.

    11. Longtimeny’er says:

      When was the last time any of you have taken a ride on those carriages?
      NY’ers like them??
      Tourists pay those ridiculous hefty prices per minute.
      And those horses are well taken care of? One of the drivers took his whip hard to the side of his horse a few times while it was standing there, and turned to me and said “ that’s for you”, when I shared my dislike for their industry.
      What’s it to him? He’s just renting the horse for a shift.
      Wake up people. These people don’t give a hoot about the horse’s welfare. They work them past legal hours, in weather conditions they are not supposed to, and often leave their posts for long lengths of time, leaving the horses tied up to a pole.
      There are sanctuaries that would take in more horses if the industry were banned.
      Some of the horses they use are not bred to haul carriages and a bunch of overweight tourists.
      Time for a change.

      • Sara Louise says:

        No longtimer would put an apostrophe in NYer, and you’re wrong about the treatment of the horses.

      • Marian says:

        Our city is so far behind in animal welfare legislation compared to other big cities. De Blasio was supposed to get rid of this but he’s totally inept. Horses belong in farms with acres of free roam. I’m sorry that the drivers will lose an easy way to milk money from stupid tourists, but retire this industry already.

      • Liz says:

        I have lived in Manhattan for 20 years. No one I know likes the horses here. Animal lovers can’t stand their crappy quality of “life.” Animal haters can’t stand the piss and sh-t. Solution: send the horses to a sanctuary to live out their golden years. I THINK tourists will still come.

    12. Liz says:

      Horses do not belong in Manhattan! It is the saddest sight seeing them trudge along pulling tourists from Idaho all day in all weather, with NO access to pasture, no ability to romp and play, just stables in Hell’s Kitchen that look like factories, until they get sick or too old and are sent to slaughterhouses. But the carriage drivers are represented by powerful unions. It’s very sad.