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Letters & Editorials

Pity the Poor Horses

December 4, 1993

In 1989 the New York City Council, presumably saddened by the sight of carriage horses trembling, collapsing and occasionally dying on Manhattan's hectic streets, wisely passed Local Law 89, which restricts the times and areas in which the carriages may operate.

A few years later the Council had a change of heart and tried to weaken those restrictions.

But Mayor David Dinkins became the horses' champion; he vetoed the bill.

Now the Council is at it again. Two weeks ago Councilman Noach Dear
introduced a bill that would increase the animals' workweek, abolish most
of the safety and humane provisions of Local Law 89 and return the
carriages to heavy traffic.

And this week the Council's Transportation Committee approved a "compromise" bill, not as sweeping as Mr. Dear's entry, that nonetheless would lengthen the horses' hours between the shifts, expand the midtown areas where the carriages can cruise and pick up passengers and extend their weekday hours of operation.

To which one can only respond: Why?

Surely the horses aren't going to benefit by the change. Nor will firefighters, emergency medical services, transportation workers, cabdrivers, theater owners or the Chamber of Commerce, all of which have protested the compromise bill.

Neither will the hordes of pedestrians and drivers who wince at the spectacle of a carriage horse hemmed in by cars and buses and bombarded by honking horns.

Even tourists for whom a ride in a horse-drawn carriage is a must have not complained about clip-clopping through sylvan Central Park rather than, say,
exhaust-shrouded Fifth Avenue.

No, the only people who would benefit from the change are the carriage
horse drivers, whose numbers increase (from 266 in 1991 to 396 in 1993)
even as they complain they can't make a decent living under Local Law 89.

Their problem may be real, but it's not pressing enough to justify
further entangling New York's already knotted traffic.

The City Council was rightly proud of itself four years ago when, after
long debate, it passed Local Law 89. Now it has a chance to become
rightfully proud again -- by renewing the old law instead of gutting its
humane and sensible provisions.

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