Timing is everything, especially in New York City traffic
NEW YORK, N.Y.––The timing of an as yet un-apprehended and unidentified driver of an allegedly speeding SUV was clearly off at almost 10 a.m. on the morning of November 18, 2022 when he tried to pass a horse-drawn carriage at 58th Street near 9th Avenue.
The horse-drawn carriage, heading to work, was about a block short of Columbus Circle, the southwest corner of Central Park.
A horse, of course!
Apparently forgetting that in front of the carriage would be a horse, adding another car length to the length of the carriage, the driver crashed into the carriage, doing significant damage to it and enabling the horse to escape and bolt toward the intersection of Central Park West and 59th street, one of the busiest traffic junctions in midtown New York City.
The timing of the accident, however, could scarcely have been better for the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages, Voters For Animal Rights, and the National Lawyers Guild, NYC, all of them trying to promote legislation to get carriage horses off the New York City streets once and for all.
No new issue
This is no new issue. The New York City horse-drawn carriage industry has been politically contentious almost continuously since the 1866 formation of the New York City-based American SPCA. Among ASPCA founder Henry Bergh’s first campaigns was an attempt to reform the horse-drawn bus industry, a struggle that continued long after Bergh’s death in 1888.
Horse-drawn vehicles in New York City are now confined to journeying daily to and from stables near Central Park, and in between, orbiting the park as a tourist attraction.
Well over a century after horse-drawn vehicles ceased to be an essential part of the New York City transportation system, the horse-drawn tourist carriages remain an irritant to drivers of motorized vehicles and animal advocates alike––not that they respond alike.
Just another day in the New York City rat race
While animal advocates often annoy carriage drivers by offering their horses every sort of treat from apples to zucchini, drivers of motorized vehicles mostly just lean on their horns, shake their fists, flip their middle fingers, and swear.
November 18, 2022 was, until approaching 10 a.m., just a typical day amid the New York City rat race, except that Mayor Eric Adams was holding yet another press conference to promote his scheme to rid the city of rats by, among other measures, requiring residents and businesses to move their garbage cans from alleys and yards to front curbs four hours later on collection days.
Adams hinted that his antipathy toward rats may have been whetted by purchasing a home from which exterminators removed 78 rats.
Then it happened
Then, according to an anonymous witness statement posted to Facebook by Voters For Animal Rights, along with four distant photos of the scene, “A car hit the horse carriage. The horse then got loose and ran away down the road. I ran after him by cutting through Columbus Circle.
“When I got to the horse,” the witness said, “another horse driver had him and was walking him to the side of the road. The other carriage driver tried to block my camera phone. The carriage driver [who was in the accident] then ran down and grabbed the horse a few minutes later. He stayed with the carriage, arguing with the driver of the car.”
The CBS News New York Team offered a slightly different account on the evening news.
Said CBS, “Police are searching for a driver who crashed into a horse carriage in Manhattan and took off Friday.
“The union for Central Park horse carriages,” CBS reported, “says someone driving an SUV started blaring their horn and hit the carriage when trying to pass. The horse, named Paddy, got scared and ran off towards Columbus Circle. He was found and reined in.
“The carriage driver was not injured, but Paddy got a small cut on his rear leg.”
Asked Voters For Animal Rights, “Why does it feel like there’s an incident involving horses on the street happening all the time these days? Because it’s actually happening all the time. This is a not just a concern about animals. This is a public safety concern. And an entirely avoidable one.
“No reason for a ‘next time'”
“Time and time again,” Voters For Animal Rights fulminated, “we see unsafe conditions whenever and wherever we see horses on streets. And there’s no reason for a ‘next time.’ We need to get horses off the streets and we need to do it before it’s too late.”
A week after the last high-profile New York City carriage horse incident, the August 10, 2022 collapse and subsequent death of an illegally registered over-aged horse named Ryder, driven by longtime carriage horse owner/operator Ian McKeever, Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages activist Elizabeth Forel offered her thoughts in a Gotham Gazette op-ed essay entitled “Ryder’s Collapse Must Be The Turning Point to Finally Fix the Horse Carriage Crisis.”
Coincidentally, the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages redistributed Forel’s essay on November 17, 2022, only hours before the accident occasioning CBS New York to explain “Why Paddy Didn’t Go To Work Today.”
(See The Dubliners, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxlt_UTSGzI.)
Electric carriages lose charge
Forel briefly reviewed the failure of a longtime effort by New York City horse advocates to have horse-drawn carriages replaced by electric replicas of antique cars.
“But do we really want electric carriages?” Forel asked.
“We are animal activists and advocates––we should not be in the business of tourism. It’s nice that many cities around the world now have electric carriages. It helped many horses in the carriage business. But NYC is not interested.
“Carriage owners are not interested in a new business”
“In 2019,” Forel recalled, “Susan Wagner of Equine Advocates and I went to Guadalajara, Mexico to see their successful electric carriages in operation. We had always wanted to put an end to the cruel and unsafe horse-drawn carriage business in NYC and we thought jobs would be an issue if the industry were banned outright. This seemed like a win/win for everyone – activists, drivers, union, and NYC tourism.
“We came back to NYC excited about the possibilities and started the Committee for Compassionate & Responsible Tourism,” but “We were wrong,” Forel acknowledged. “The Transit Workers Union Local 100 and the carriage owners are not interested in a new business.
“While it is possible for someone to buy an electric carriage or two and try to get permits to operate them without input from the union and carriage owners, that did not happen when the former owners of Chateau Stable built their own horseless carriage in 2014. They were refused permits and not allowed to operate it. And if this someone were able to convince the authorities to provide permits, he would probably be met with the huge inflatable Union Rat and picket lines.
“Nightmare from hell”
“I point out here,” Forel continued, “that cities like Guadalajara and others that banned the horse-drawn carriages did so because of the animal cruelty issue. The government made this decision first. Not so in NYC.”
Forel then turned to the specific situation leading to Paddy’s carriage getting clipped by the SUV, spilling a bucket of horse feed over the pavement but fortunately no blood.
“Do we really want to be responsible for adding another vehicle to the traffic mess in Manhattan?” Forel asked.
“Traffic, especially midtown by Central Park, is a nightmare from hell,” Forel alleged.
“In the morning, the horse carriages coming up from the far west side weave in and out of heavy traffic and go through lights––many picking up their speed to do so,” Forel continued.
“No one in authority stops them. This “heart in your mouth” experience is repeated in the evening.”
“I wish I had the answer”
With that much observed, though, Forel held out little hope for near-future change.
A bill sponsored by New York City council member Robert Holden “appears to be dead,” Forel wrote. “It has only 18 sponsors and is not supported by the chair of the health committee, Lynn Schulman, council speaker Adrienne Adams, or Mayor Eric Adams,” who might pay more attention to a horse named Willard.
“There are many problems with the bill,” Forel continued, “including that it once again created a hostile environment between the carriage owners, union, and activists – all yelling at each other on the street.
“So what do we do? I’ve been working on this issue for decades,” Forel concluded, “and wish I had the answer.”
National Lawyers Guild, NYC
The same day, coincidentally, ANIMALS 24-7 heard from Tamara Bedić, Esquire, president of the National Lawyers Guild, NYC, whose organization is apparently also looking for answers, though it is difficult to imagine any that Forel has not already considered over the past 40 years or so.
“We are close to 1,000 progressive lawyers strong!” Bedić said. “Some of those lawyers are members of the Animal Rights Committee, which produces free bimonthly webinars on different intersections of animal rights and the law.
“On November 30, 2022, from noon to 1:00 p.m.,” Bedić continued, “we will explore the issue of New York’s horse drawn carriages.”
The webinar panel is to include former New York state senator Tony Avella; Voters for Animal Rights president Allie Taylor; Edita Birnkrant, executive director of an organization called NYCLASS, which has often conflicted with the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages over specific approaches to ending the carriage horse industry; Animal Legal Defense Fund legislative affairs manager Brian Hackett; Alfonso Hernandez Olmos of Advanced Power Vehicles, promoting the electric car industry; and two representatives of the constellation of organizations headed by former Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle, Marty Irby of Animal Wellness Action and Kate Schultz of the Center for a Humane Economy.
Each speaker may get about seven minutes.
“The event is free,” Bedić said, “but one must register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/from-horse-drawn-carriages-to-ecarriages-tickets-460964877357.”