Animal activists protest outside Liam Neeson's home

April 19, 2014 10:57:03 AM PDT
Animal rights advocates gathered in Manhattan Saturday for a protest outside the home of actor Liam Neeson.

Neeson is a vocal supporter of New York City's carriage horse industry.

People who oppose his stance organized a protest outside Neeson's home on the Upper West Side, holding signs with such slogans as: "Liam Neeson: Stop Supporting Cruelty!"

Neeson did not appear as about 50 demonstrators filled the sidewalk in front of his apartment building.

They say it's inhumane for the horses to be subjected to traffic, pollution and possible accidents.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to retire the horses and ban horse-drawn carriages from the city.

An electric car that proponents hope will replace the carriages was presented Thursday at the New York International Auto Show, as critics expressed their distaste for the idea.

The "Horseless eCarriage" prototype was commissioned by NYCLASS, a group advocating for a ban on carriage horses.

The prototype car seats eight people and is made to look like it's from the early 20th century, with lots of brass and oversized wheels. Creator Jason Wenig of The Creative Workshop, a car restoration and customization business, said the selling price could be between $150,000 and $175,000.

But before the cars could make their way to the streets around Central Park, legislation banning the carriage horses would have to be passed.

Carriage-horse operators and their allies - including Neeson - have loudly opposed the mayor's plan and the council has not yet introduced the legislation.

The Central Park Conservancy, a nonprofit that oversees the park in partnership with the city, was against the idea of bringing more cars into the popular place.

"Forty million people visit Central Park each year, including runners, bicyclists, kids and dog owners," said Doug Blonsky, president and CEO of the conservancy. "Adding vehicles to the mix will make the park less safe for all of them and increase congestion."

Wenig said the cars would be able to go up to 30 mph outside of the park, but would be kept electronically from going more than 5 mph inside it.

Asked about the conservancy's opposition, de Blasio said he thought it was a "misunderstanding" of what's being proposed.

"Right now, besides the fact that the horse carriages are not humane - there have been a number of accidents involving carriages - the routes we're talking about would be the same as our existing routes," he said. "You're talking about electric cars for tourists that go slow on purpose because they should go slow and because tourists want to see things. That's very different from other issues about cars in parks, and it is a cleaner, better, more humane approach, that obviously will also provide employment opportunities and will be good for our tourism industry."

City Councilmember Daniel Dromm said legislation was still being crafted, with the specifics of how those who hold licenses for the carriage horses could get the vehicles and how it would be paid for still to be determined. He insisted there were enough votes for legislation to pass.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.