By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
In the wake of the midtown accident last week in which a carriage horse collided with a car and threw two tourists to the ground, animal rights activists have renewed their call to ban the popular carriages.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has flatly refused, pointing out that riding in old-fashioned carriages pulled by horses is popular with many of the millions of tourists who visit New York City each year.
“In our society, we have, from caveman times, used animals as part of our economy,” Bloomberg said in an interview on WOR-AM. “I think it’s something that a lot of tourists really love. It makes New York, New York.”
Councilman Vincent Gentile is part of a group of lawmakers working on a compromise between the two sides.
Gentile is a co-signer of a proposed compromise that would install a pilot program into the debate over the use of carriage horses.
Under the pilot program, the carriage horses would co-exist with electric-powered cars, Gentile said. Tourists would be given a choice of whether they would want to ride around Central Park and midtown in a quiet car, or a horse-drawn carriage.
“And we would let the public decide which is better,” the councilman said.
The electric cars, which would resemble vintage automobiles like the Model-T Ford, would be driven by carriage horse drivers, Gentile said.
“I think it’s a pilot program worth trying,” he added.
It’s not clear how long the test period would be for the pilot project.
Gentile said that while he has respect for animal rights advocates, he is also aware of the importance of carriage horses to the city’s tourist industry, an industry that brings in millions of dollars a year.
“It’s a tourist attraction, so we have to be careful. You want to protect the carriage horses and you want to protect the jobs of the people who operate the carriage horses,” he said.
Electric cars would be used in the pilot program “because they’re clean, efficient, non-polluting and totally quiet,” Gentile said. “There’s no engine noise.”
The incident that is driving all of the talk took place on Aug. 16. A horse-drawn carriage and a car collided in midtown, injuring two people, according to WCBS-TV.
The horse, named Oreo, became frightened and bolted, the television station reported. Oreo galloped through the streets and was found by cops a few blocks away, on 57th Street near Ninth Avenue. The cops managed to wrangle Oreo and safely transport the horse to its stable on the West Side.
The two tourists who were thrown from the carriage were taken to Saint Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital. The carriage driver reportedly suffered a leg injury.
Oreo was not injured.
The accident renewed the debate between officials and animal rights activists.
“It’s inhumane treatment to the animal, but it’s also a huge danger to everybody else in the area,” state Sen. Tony Avella told WCBS-TV.
“It is a concern,” Gentile said. “Traffic on the streets is not getting less, it is getting more. Horses are not natural to that environment.”