Horseless Carriages for NYC?

The carriage horses lining West 59th Street at the foot of Central Park cannot be happy. Although the horse-drawn Hansom cab, designed by English architect Joseph Hansom in 1834, has been a New York City fixture since the Hansom Cab Company was started in 1869, today it is outmoded. The poor steeds pulling these and other buggies around Central Park have caught the eye of animal rights groups who allege mistreatment, and one group, NYCLASS (New Yorkers for Clean, Livable & Safe Streets), founded three years ago by Stephen W. Nislick, wants to replace carriage horses with clean hybrid, customized retro-looking vehicles. By introducing “green” cars, NYCLASS is banking that social entrepreneurship and good design will trump a timeworn tradition and provide a humane alternative.

I used to go horseback riding and still love watching these majestic animals, but not in a bustling city (or even a bucolic park in the heart of a bustling city). Vintage autos – even faux versions – are much kinder on the eye and conscience, and can provide a similar experience. This is not, however, just an animal rights issue, it is a design problem: How can a city as design conscious as New York retain a timeworn tourist attraction without descending to Disney-level kitsch?

These new/old replica horseless carriges could be an answer. The idea is to have a fleet 68 of “Eco-Carriage” cars, including five different models in five different colors from 1930s to 1950s. They may even appeal to even jaded native New Yorkers from time to time.

One of the potential manufacturers, The Creative Workshop in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida founded by Jason Wemig, is currently producing vehicles from scratch, restoring and customizing “some of the most rare and exotic cars in the world,” states a report showing possible styles. And frankly, who wouldn’t prefer to drive around the park in style – or as though on a movie set. Of course there are “traffic and safety” and “feasibility and economics” concerns, and NYCLASS commissioned studies on both. Not surprisingly, Nislick, CEO of Edison Properties LLC, a real estate and development company in Newark, who is cooperating with the ASPCA, says the carriage horse industry “is not convinced that the replica cars will be successful.”

Citing existing hazards with traffic and pedestrians, and horses involved in reported accidents, Nislick says that the cars would improve conditions on the streets. And having watched the film “Blinders” about the accidents caused by carriage horses, I believe him.

Design plays a significant role in appealing to the the New Yorker’s sense of place. Although contrary to all the teachings of Modernism about timelessness, Manhattan is a historic place, and Central Park, which never changes (except for the seasons, of course), is the core the ole New York’s legacy. Populating it with faux and retro-fitted automobiles may not advance the cause of contemporary design – which is embodied in current architectural trends – but it doesn’t detract either. Instead, it simply substitutes a more eye-catching form of design for a total cliché. What’s more, the “nostalgic value” is a draw for more than 80 percent of the people who were surveyed. Eco-friendliness is another factor, though statistically far below the former. Only four percent in the survey cited humane treatment of horses to be a concern.

Substituting vintage rides for sort-of picturesque carriages will be a change in Park culture, but it will not detract from the quality of the tourist or native experience. And over time, it will be accepted as the standard. Wouldn’t it be great to see those classic cars skirting around the park as though they had never faded from view.

16 thoughts on “Horseless Carriages for NYC?

  1. Elaine

    Wow, Donny, I actually had to look up the definition of “egress” to understand what context you were using it in.  Most non- city horses don’t “egress” from their stalls, either, until taken out by someone.
    In any event, Catherine is right – your post is just more uneducated, repetitious slander towards the trade. Not sure what your personal agenda is (maybe just another means of showing off your amusing film work). Let’s correct a few things here, shall we?
    The vast majority of domesticated horses (carriage or riding) never have a chance to run freely and graze out to pasture. This is why we horse farmers “put up hay”, and why farmers have been putting it up for thousands of years. It is not practical to consistently pasture horses, for many reasons beyond even what you would think is obvious. And before you go saying anything about “wild horses” roaming free, let me just say that neither you nor I would allow our dogs to roam free and do what is “natural” to a wild dog, either.
    Horses, by nature, are flight animals, you are correct there. But not all horses are by nature “nervous”. Hence the real reason why, when you walk by them on 59th Street, you see them with their heads lowered and a look of “lifelessness” in their eyes. They are relaxed (and very possibly napping, too).
    Not certain about the respiratory disease caused by a “nose to tailpipe” existence. You will have to prove it, then. You see a lot of snotty noses when you walk by them? Horses coughing uncontrollably? Horses whistling while they work?
    We already discussed the act of “egressing” from their stalls. Oh, and by the way, horses can, and do, lay down in standing stalls and even a horse out to pasture, if not completely comfortable with his surroundings for one reason or another, will sleep standing up. Now THAT is the true nature of horses.
    As for blinders, they block a certain amount of vision, the monocular vision, which is directly behind them and to the side. I won’t bore you with the details of why blinders are necessary for 99% of all carriage horses, but suffice it to say that it still affords them enough vision to see what you see, for example, when looking straight ahead (their binocular vision). Horses are ungulates, which means they are active day AND night – and their eye is designed to see well in both very bright light as well as very dim light (so your argument about dark stalls is a poor one, too).
    And lastly, I would like to see you put together a movie of what REALLY comes naturally to horses. Of course, that would require you to do some REAL research. And talk to REAL horsemen and women. I know you could do it, though, if you REALLY cared.

  2. Catherine

    Atta boy Donny, keep cutting and pasting lies to promote your low quality, propaganda piece about something you know absolutely nothing about. Good boy, here’s your cookie!

  3. Donny Moss

    The carriage operators deprive their horses of a pasture for daily turn out where they can graze freely and interact with other horses;  they force these nervous, prey animals to work in the most congested city in the country where they spook and flee; they subject them to a nose-to-tailpipe existence which causes respiratory disease; they force them to work on hard pavement which causes concussive leg injury and lameness; they confine them at night to stalls (too small to lie down and stretch) in multi-story warehouse buildings in midtown with no means of egress; they block their vision for 9 hours a day with blinders before confining them in dark stalls; they under-water them all winter when the two water troughs are deactivated to prevent the pipes from freezing, etc.  These horses are deprived of the ability to do anything that comes naturally to them, and they are put in harm’s way every day.

  4. LindaB

    Horse and carriages are a beautiful part of the city where I live. I’m a second generation horsewoman, and see absolutely nothing wrong with horses drawing carriages. The horses I’ve seen all look well cared for, and I love watching people meet a horse for the first time. You can’t feed carrots to a car, pet a car, learn about a car, love a car (at least most of us don’t) Replace horses with machines, following a huge propaganda campaign about how cruel, unsafe carriages are? The auto industry did it once already, and the Ban the Carriages campaigns are STILL reusing their slogans “the average working life of a carriage horse is 4 years” (on a propaganda lithograph put out by automobile companies in the early 1900’s.). I will never go for a “car ride” around Central Park. That is just dumb.

  5. DalaLuz

    Well, I don’t know about this issue, I do not live in NY so all info would be second-hand. But I would like to take a ride in such a nice old-timer 🙂 Do the two exclude each other? BTW as a foreigner I was way more shocked by the plight of the homeless in the winter.

  6. Steven Heller Post author

    Thank you all for commenting on this issue. Although I have an admitted bias, I also want all opinions to be aired. It is true that Olmsted and Vaux designed the park for carriages, but as noted, this was the late 1800s. Times have changed. Consciousness has changed. Sensitivities are more accute. Differing views abound on this as on other issues where livihoods are at stake, and traditions are cherished.

  7. Elaine

    First of all, Steven, let me start by saying that your historical information regarding the carriages is incorrect. The carriages used by the horse and carriage industry in Manhattan are commercial grade, contemporary vis-a-vis carriages, NOT hansom cabs. They are two very distinct vehicles. Secondly, I would argue that the horse and carriage causes far fewer accidents in New York City than do automobiles, “green” or not. And third, if the horses in New York are being so mistreated and abused, then why is it that only 4% of the people surveyed feel it is even an issue? I would think it is because the majority believe what they see – well cared for, well-accustomed horses. The fact is, this article, and many, many others that have preceded it by the anti-carriage horse ilk, is blatantly spreading misinformation and historical mistruths regarding this industry. May I also remind you, that Central Park and its winding “streets” was designed by Olmsted and Vaux in the late 1800’s with the wealthy in mind, as a place to take leisurely drives – you guessed it – in horse drawn carriages. Now, I have no issue with antique cars or replicas there-of, or of any industry that may wish to use them. What I do find issue with is the shameless propaganda (“Blinders” quickly comes to mind here) that seeks to bolster a very warped, twisted agenda by the animal rights activists, to eventually abolish all human/animal interaction. This is not a case of “saving” the “sad” carriage horses (prove to me, all you who think carriage horses are unhappy, that you have more than a casual acquaintance with horse psychology and even general horse care beyond some textbook or website blurb). The NYCLASS and other ARA are, in effect, political movements of well-funded radicals who want life their way, or no way. The carriage industry, by contrast, wants nothing more than to save these horses from extinction – for without a reason for being, and without a life interacting with the general public, extinction is the very path the harness and work-horse is threatened with. Abolishing the industry in cities like New York will only set off a domino affect world-wide. Those of us who work with horses on a day to day basis understand the dire implications of this. I urge your readers to become truly educated about the industry, and to avoid forming opinion based solely on the lies, propaganda, and Hollywood style “reporting” on what is, in fact, an industry designed to take care of horses.

  8. Elizabeth Forel

    We whole-heartedly support the replacement of horse-drawn carriages with vintage replica eco friendly cars.  As a designer, I wholeheartedly appreciate the attention to design details that a project like this would entail.  The horse-drawn carriages are not only tacky, but they have had a good run and it is time for NYC to move into a compassionate and green 21st century. 
    But the most important thing is that the bill that would make it possible – Intro 86A –  also now has a provision that would insure that the carriage horses are either adopted to good homes or sanctuaries – something that does not happen now.  Many horses continue to fall through the cracks on their way to auction since there are no preventative measures in place. 
    The new industry would also create real union jobs for the workers with benefits – something that does not exist now with their alliance with the Teamsters Union.  It could be a new and exciting industry of which NYC would be proud. 
    Every published poll that I have seen shows that people want the carriage trade to come to an end.  After the bogus bill Intro 35 was signed into law, Crain’s NY Business published a poll (4/15/10)  asking this question:  “Did NYC need more rules for horse-drawn carriages?”  92 voted Yes; 40 voted No; but 489 people said “horse-drawn carriages should be banned from the city altogether.”  I
    We began the campaign to shut down this inherently inhumane trade in 2006.  We were responsible for getting the Comptroller’s Audit done and the results placed in the NY Times when it looked like there was a cover up of the results.  We also got former Council Member Tony Avella, an independent thinker, to introduce the historic bill to ban the industry – Intro 658, in 2007.   All of these things are stepping blocks.   It will take a while, but we have right on our side. 
    The majority of New Yorkers and anyone else  – when they learn the truth about these horses– want to see the industry go the way of gas lamps.  The reason for the hold up is primarily Speaker Christine Quinn and her strong connections to the Queens Democratic party and the late Tom Manton who essentially crowned her Speaker.  He was a huge supporter of the carriage trade.   The Speaker controls all bills — whether they are introduced, ignored or passed.   
    Unfortunately, Mayor Bloomberg could not be bothered with this trivial issue being exposed only to the finer pure bred expensive horses of his daughter Georgina’s sport.  Yet it is surprising that he has not embraced this new initiative. 
    Elizbeth Forel
    Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages
    Horses Without Carriages International 

  9. Kimberly Fishman

    The author says she used to go horseback riding…is she a hypocrite?  I mean, If a horse shouldn’t pull a carriage (has wheels) then why does she feel okay getting on their backs?  I’m not buying any of this.  We take a carriage ride EVERY TIME we are in NYC.  I have never ridden with a driver who didn’t love his horse & care for it.  At the rate of horse abandonment & slaughter in this current economy- I fail to see the cruelty in asking a horse to do a job that it was bred for as opposed to jumping on it’s back and making it run around barrels, or jump over fences…their legs are a little small for that it seems.  There are enough cars on the streets of NYC, I enjoy the sound of clip clop.  Somehow riding in a car during the holiday season is in no way appealing to me…I will do what we do every year as a tradition- bring a bag of carrots in to the city & take our Christmas ride in a carriage!

  10. Jose Reyes

    There is an unrealized opportunity for something else here. Something bigger than simply replacing the horse with a car. Big deal. I ask you New Yorkers, what would it look like to consider the horse drawn carriage serving the city in a beautiful and redemptive way, beyond what you can see right now? I’d love to see what you could dream up!

  11. Nicole

    I didn’t know much about this issue until a few years ago, when my eyes were opened to the realities of it. My perspective was always that of a New Yorker who often drives around that area. Horses do not belong on the very busy streets of New York City, lugging overweight people around. I saw absolutely no common sense need for it.
    After hearing more about the mistreatment and learning more about the issue, it’s almost baffling that it’s still even an issue that is being disscussed- especially since there is a solution to the problem!  It’s a shame to know that even though people know about the cruelty, there is still no change. This solution is an excellent alternative and I really don’t understand why it’s not being put into fruition.

  12. Donny Moss

    Many New Yorkers turn their heads in the other direction when walking by the listless, lifeless, blinded horses on 59th Street.  We also hold our noses because the whole area smells like a dirty barn.   These cars would be a feast for the eyes (and much needed respite for the nose).  Can they park the cars in the same garages where the horses are stored at night?  If anyone wants to know why we still have horse-and-buggies in midtown in spite of the widespread public opposition:

  13. Alan

    I love my city and it saddens me to see the overworked, majestic, and sensitive horses continue to be abused by an industry way past its time and by an apathetic public and irresponsible civic leaders. It is time for enightenment and forward-thinking on this issue. The Horseless Carriage proposal succeeds in transforming this sad situation into something we can now be proud of rather than ashamed.

  14. Jeff Nesin

    Right on target, Steve. There are many varieties of picturesque & memorable antique rides and these replicas will be much happier in the garage at night.

  15. Jacqueline

    There is no denying that the sight of a beautiful and healthy horse is a joy to see, and that Central Park, with its lush greenery, is an oasis in the City.
    But the horses attached to the shafts of carriages lined up on 59th Street, standing in their own waste, pawing at the pavement with chipped hooves, starring ahead with far away eyes, some with the outline of their bones visible, give many the uneasy feeling that something about this “tourist attraction” is less pristine than the air in Central Park.
    On a typical day, the horses go from their restrictive stalls to the shafts of the carriages and back to the stalls again. Their whole life is spent in narrow spaces. They are denied their basic needs of running freely, socializing with other horses, and even lying down comfortably. The carriage horses continuously inhale toxic exhaust fumes resulting in respiratory conditions for some. And, they are deprived of adequate water during their workday. For many, after they have outlived their usefulness, “retirement” is a slaughterhouse.
    The Horseless Carriage plan is an elegant alternative to horse-drawn carriages, and it would complement Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC and Goals for 2030. It is forward looking, safe, environmentally friendly, and compassionate: all qualities that our great City should exemplify. 
    Unfortunately, the legislation to forward this plan, Intro. 86, remains unmoved within the City Council.  But, Mayor Bloomberg, Christine Quinn and our Council Members still need to know that we, as New Yorkers who care about the image our great City portrays to the rest of the world, are also deeply concerned about the living and working conditions of the carriage horses  — and the protection of their well being. The horses deserve better.