Read the original article by Nicole Gelinas at nypost.com here.
In 1941, mad that the city had thwarted his plan to build a bridge through Battery Park, highway impresario Robert Moses closed the park’s beloved aquarium in retaliation. Eight decades later, Mayor de Blasio is following the same formula: Angry that he can’t ban Central Park’s horse carriages, he’s inflicting a transportation disaster on that park.
Why has he launched a misadventure to rip up roadways in the southern part of the park, a project nobody wants and serves no purpose? Likely because he owes a debt.
De Blasio came into office five years ago after beating the primary favorite, Christine Quinn, then the City Council speaker. He beat her partly because real-estate developer Steve Nislick helped bankroll a seven-figure campaign accusing her of being mean to animals, namely the horse carriages along Central Park South.
The horses are among the most scrutinized animals in the world, and nobody has come up with evidence of abuse.
Nevertheless, candidate de Blasio promised to outlaw them on his first day. He consumed his first term trying to get the City Council to pass a ban but failed.
Now he’s trying a different tactic: roping the Department of Transportation into a scheme to move the carriages for hire from Central Park South, in view of passersby tourists, further into the park. At a hastily convened public hearing last year, city officials implied it would be simple: You just . . . tell them to move.
Turns out it isn’t so easy. Nearly two weeks ago, city crews arrived at the south end of the park, near Fifth Avenue, to begin ripping up blocks of roadway. Buried in court documents (the carriage drivers are suing) is what this goal actually requires: “new street designs.”
Across all of the southern park, the city will rip up median strips, move paving stones, replumb and move a heavy water trough and reconfigure a one-way lane in the middle of Central Park to be two-way. Just outside the park, the city will rearrange bus stops and car-parking spots and give the space the horses had to cars.
A DOT official assured the court that all this work will be “temporary” and can be modified later. What’s the point of all this? For Hizzoner to be able to say the horse carriages aren’t losing any square footage of space.
It is impossible to say for sure how much this project will cost (DOT didn’t answer). Unlike with similarly scaled changes, such as bike lanes, the city hasn’t bothered to inform anyone, save for the court, what it is doing. It is doing the work not via a disclosed contract but with in-house crews, street permits indicate.
The cost is easy to surmise, though: The average construction laborer for the city makes $1,500 a week, and plumbers, electricians and cement workers earn more. The city is doing much of this work at night, when labor is even more expensive. If a crew of workers spends a month on this “temporary” project, it will cost well into the mid-to-high six figures, and that’s a conservative estimate.
Add in potential dangers. Central Park’s drives are already overcrowded in warm weather, with record numbers of tourists and locals competing for space to cycle, jog and walk. Five years ago, two pedestrians died in the park, hit by bicyclists; one of the deaths was in part due to crowding conditions.
With the city having closed Central Park’s drives to cars last summer, DOT should be focusing on how to redesign the lanes now freed, configuring more room for cyclists and walkers in the space once used by cars. Instead, two-way traffic at one of the most crowded entrances is going to cause more chaos.
Park neighbors should have a say — the park, after all, is a landmark. “DOT regularly comes to us on issues affecting our district, and we expect them to seek our input on this proposal, as well,” David Sandler, chair of the area Community Board’s transportation and environment committee, said last week. That seems optimistic: The city wasn’t deterred by a letter Community Board 5 sent last fall.
Former Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe thinks it’s a travesty. “The mayor is waging a war of attrition on a tiny, struggling, historic industry,” he says, “illegally altering Central Park literally under the cover of darkness without obtaining any of the necessary public reviews.”
The mayor famously doesn’t care very much about traffic, or the people stuck in it, or walking or cycling around it. The only emergency on the streets he perceives is the one he created — by making a corrupt campaign promise he couldn’t keep.