It’s not just carriage horse drivers saying neigh to plans for vintage cars tooling around Central Park.
The Central Park Conservancy, the nonprofit organization that manages the city’s most famous greenspace, is coming out against a proposal backed by Mayor de Blasio to replace the horse-drawn carriages with replica old-time cars.
Doug Blonsky, the conservancy’s president & CEO, told the Daily News that introducing the electric vehicles to the park would be a bad idea.
“Forty million people visit Central Park each year, including runners, bicyclists, kids and dog owners,” Blonsky said Wednesday.
“Adding vehicles to the mix will make the park less safe for all of them and increase congestion.”
The conservancy is a nonprofit organization that manages the park under a contract with the city. While it will not have the final word on whether to end the carriage horse industry, its position could be influential in the raging debate.
The conservancy announced its position on the day before a prototype of the proposed vintage electric cars was to be unveiled to the media ahead of this weekend’s New York Auto Show, where it will be displayed.
De Blasio has been pushing to ban the carriage horse rides on the grounds that it’s inhumane for the horses to operate on congested city streets.
Through a spokesman, de Blasio dismissed the conservancy’s concerns.
“Mayor de Blasio thinks antique replica cars traveling at slow rates of speed provide a sound alternative to horse-drawn carriages,” his spokesman said.
The issue of cars in Central Park has been a contentious one going back to Mayor John Lindsay’s administration in the 1960s.
Parks advocates and Manhattan community boards have tried for years to decrease the time periods that cars are allowed in the park, to varying degrees of success.
In 2007, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration floated the idea of closing the park to cars permanently, only to drop the plan after stiff opposition from motorists.
Bloomberg did succeed in closing much of the East and West drives in Central Park to cars last summer. The roads reopened after Labor Day, however.
Currently, the park only allows cars at designated times, mostly in the mornings during weekdays.
Under the proposal backed by de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and animal-rights groups, the vintage cars would replace the 68 horse-driven carriages that now have licenses to give tours in the park.
The turn-of-the-century-themed vehicles would cost $150,000 to $175,000 each, according to NYCLASS, the animal rights group that first proposed the idea.
NYCLASS also spent $174,000 in the 2013 elections to support candidates who want to ban the horse-drawn carriages and oppose then-City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who said she would keep the carriage-horse industry if she were elected mayor.
NYCLASS claims that the horses shouldn’t be subjected to working in city traffic, and that replacing them with the vintage cars would give carriage-horse drivers a new way to earn a living.
But many of the drivers who have worked in Central Park say they don’t want to switch to cars. They claim the horses are treated very well, in large part because the industry is so heavily regulated.
De Blasio had promised during the mayoral campaign to ban the industry as one of his first acts in office.
But last week he acknowledged that his timetable had changed.
“I think everyone came in and looked at all the other things we had to do and we had to prioritize,” said de Blasio in a sit-down with The News.
Despite the holdup, he insisted he was committed to ending the industry.
He also maintained that his administration would help the 300 people currently employed in the carriage-horse trade find new jobs.
“My vision has always been to get work [for the people in the industry],” he said.
The foot-dragging might have less to do with de Blasio’s busy schedule and more to do with the City Council.
Multiple sources told The News that there aren’t enough votes in the Council as of today to pass the ban.