Shutting the Midtown Stables Won’t Do Zilch for Manhattan Traffic

Mayor de Blasio’s newest rationale for his deal to shutter the horse-carriage stables in the West 50s is that it will alleviate traffic congestion in Midtown. At an MLK Day event yesterday in Brooklyn, the mayor told reporters:

The value we’re getting here for the people is to address the congestion issue, again when the horses are coming from the West Side to Central Park, to address the congestion issue along all the routes that the horse carriages ply, to address the safety issue, because there have been a number of crashes. I think it’s a good long-term investment to get the horses off the streets.

Subtracting a few horses won’t help. Photo: Kevin Coles/Flickr

Yet carriage traffic on the streets between the stables and Central Park now makes up such a tiny share of overall vehicle travel that eliminating it would barely register on the traffic meter. There are a mere 68 carriages, and each travels around five miles a day (that figure assumes that each carriage makes one to two 3.2-mile round trips daily between its stable and the park). Total daily carriage-miles traveled, or CMT, is around 340 miles.

By comparison, cars, taxis, trucks and buses rack up 3.3 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) each weekday in the Manhattan Central Business District. Against that figure, the 340 miles of CMT are just one part in 10,000.

That ratio would shrink by three if we limit the comparison to Midtown, which occupies the northernmost one-third of the CBD. We could also charge each horse carriage with several times the traffic impact of a taxicab or car, due to larger size and lesser maneuverability. But even accounting for those factors, shutting down horse-carriage traffic still leaves in place the equivalent of at least 999 of every 1,000 vehicles on Midtown streets.

The projected average traffic gain for Midtown is one-tenth of one percent Averaged across the entire CBD, the improvement shrinks to three-hundredths of one percent. The CBD average traffic speed of 9.000 mph becomes 9.003. Vehicle-hours stuck in traffic fall by an imperceptible 100 per day.

As for the mayor’s other newly voiced concern, crashes, I recently computed crash rates for carriage horses on Midtown streets over a five-year period (mid-2009 to mid-2014) and compared them to crash data for motor vehicles in the NYPD’s 18th PCT, Midtown North. I found that carriage horses traveled an average of 20,300 miles on city streets between reported “incidents,” whereas motor vehicles in midtown traveled 16,800 miles between reported collisions.

That is, carriage horses were involved in 17 percent fewer traffic incidents than motorists for the same distance covered on the same streets. These figures suggest that, per mile traveled, carriage horses are at least as safe to their patrons, handlers and other road users as are motor vehicles.

“I think anyone who drives in New York City — data’s great, human experience is great too. I drove plenty of times behind those horse carriages,” Mayor de Blasio told reporters yesterday. “And we’ve all seen the crashes and what they did to the people involved and the horses involved. This is a no-brainer: they don’t belong on the streets of the city.”

Speaking of human experience, just yesterday I had to halt my bicycle on a frigid side street while a shopper finished loading her groceries into a double-parked Uber. And last week I lost precious seconds while fellow straphangers exited and entered my subway car. Imagine!

Decisions that will impinge on the livelihoods of hard-working New Yorkers who drive horse carriages (and pedicabs) need to be made on a broader base than individual irritation. The city just spent two million bucks on a Midtown traffic study. Why not apply that here?

The traffic and crash findings here are derived in Komanoff’s Balanced Transportation Analyzer spreadsheet [Excel file]. Go to Index (second tab) and click on the link to the “Horses” tab near the bottom of the list.

  • Reader

    Great analysis, but you need a column in your spreadsheet that weights how much congestion horses cause against the amount of campaign donations the mayor receives from moneyed interests.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    what about pedicabs ?

    why do they hate pedicabs ?

  • c2check

    Many of us have some pretty crappy “human experiences” walking about, without the luxury of a driver.
    Could tell you a story or 100.

  • Joe R.

    There are lots of great reasons for getting rid of the horse carriages but reducing traffic congestion certainly isn’t one of them. This is yet another example of the mayor sprouting complete nonsense to sway the public on the side of dumb policy decisions. Your average person will hear this and envision flying along Manhattan streets like in a car commercial now that the horse carriages aren’t there any more creating congestion. Of course, as your fine analysis shows, the reality will be a bit different. There’s only one way to reduce Manhattan traffic congestion—charge people for using the limited resource which are public streets.

  • stairbob

    They compete for the tourist dollar with the horse drivers.

  • cjstephens

    Of course this deal has nothing to do with traffic (either speed or safety). Real estate interests who are friendly to the mayor want to redevelop the areas in midtown where the stables are located, now that those areas are getting “hot”. The mayor then decides to spend taxpayer money to build a private structure in a heavily used park so that his friends in real estate can get what they want.

    Please, please, please don’t vote for this man again, and please oppose any City Council members who vote for this plan.

  • When my office was in midtown, I used to cycle to work along W54th or sometimes W56th St from the Hudson River Greenway. That often meant cycling around the horse carriages on their way to the park. Given the speed of traffic in those areas, I don’t think I ever saw one cause any particular delay, except to me, since I worried about passing too close in front of them in case it provoked them to kick. If the horse carriages are going to remain, it makes some sense not to force the horses to navigate midtown traffic twice or more often a day. But the idea that it will have any impact on congestion is, as Charles notes, poppycock. And the pedicab riders need to organize, now, and get this stupid ban overturned.

  • Andres Dee

    “we’ve all seen the crashes and what they did to the people involved”

    He must have been referring to pededestrian Sian Green, the visitor who was maimed by an out-of-control horse carriage, who crashed after being attacked by a bicycler.

    https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20131210/midtown/british-tourist-maimed-taxi-accident-sue-city-for-275-million

  • merleliz

    Exactly. Despite the pretense of “inhumane” treatment of the horses, a claim that has been refuted by every veterinarian who has examined them, the New York State Horse Council, the Equine Rescue Network, the list is endless…the Mayor is determined to push through a ban. The City Council does not appear to be dealing in good faith with the drivers (or the Teamsters representing them…and THAT will come back to haunt them, I’m sure)…they want the horses gone before the new stables could possibly be built, and it is more than obvious that all they really want is for them to vacate the existing stables. Using the extremist animal rights people as useful idiots was a good ploy…they make outrageous claims and chant slogans by the bucketful…but the carriage drivers have known and said all along that it wasn’t about the horses…it’s about their stables. After all, horses have been in traffic for millennia…until recently, they WERE traffic.

  • WoodyinNYC

    Most of the pedicab drivers appear to be immigrants. Donald Trump doesn’t like them. I guess de Blasio is just going with the flow.

  • Helen Chirivas

    Amen.

  • otterbird

    She was hit by a cab. Either you’re wrong or you were making a joke and my humor meter is totally broken. Either is possible.

  • Walker Blankinship

    You gotta love the animal rights activists. They just keep on lying. Truth is totally unimportant to them.

  • Walker Blankinship

    Traffic which is safe for horses is safe for pedestrians and cyclists. #visionzero

  • Andres Dee

    Yes. She was hit by a cab, or more generally, a motorist. If De Blasio applied his reasoning to the people who are causing the most carnage on NYC’s streets, he’d be calling for banning cars.

  • otterbird

    See, I knew I was missing your point. 🙂
    Well, if the real estate interests ever decide they want where the cabs are kept, I imagine they can buy de Blasio into pushing for a ban on them, too.

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