Monday, March 22, 2010

Can we please put the horse to bed?

Mind if I vent for one post?

Well, if you do, please feel free to go away & come back in a day or two. Because really, this is one ridiculously tiny thing that left me slightly perturbed, in the middle of a couple of very interesting events that I attended last week (namely, the mapping meeting on Tuesday night & the maritime professionals evening at the South Street Seaport). I really enjoyed both & was very glad that I'd managed to manage my workload in such a way that I was able to go. The material was all engaging, well presented, forward-looking, made a person feel good about the Hudson's history & future. Sort of inspirational at times. I hope to have time to come back to those!

So with all the inspiration & interesting stuff, it was a bit of a bummer to overhear one of those inspirational speakers trot out that tired old chestnut about people taking kayaks on the working Hudson being just like people taking horses on the highway.

I first saw that in a Times article written somewhere around a decade ago, back when I first started paddling. It wasn't the same guy back then. I really thought that particular horse story had long since been put to bed, but apparently it's still out there kicking around.

I didn't feel like calling the guy on it. I have mixed emotions on the topic myself, honestly. I've seen people out there doing some pretty silly things in kayaks. I've done some pretty silly things out there in kayaks myself. I think anyone that's been boating (in any kind of boat) on the Hudson for very long can remember at least one time when they made somebody sweat bullets - themselves, if no one else. Happens to the best of us, and it not unique to kayakers at all. Still -- the horse-on-a-highway scenario? It just doesn't paint a very accurate picture, and I think that it would behoove us to put that particular simile out to pasture.

Failing that, maybe next time I hear somebody make that argument, I'll just ask if a few minor adjustments could be made to the highway concept, just to make it a better reflection of the situation as it actually exists on our urban waterways. Ready? Here we go:

1. Imagine that the highway was carved by Pleistocene-era glaciers.
2. Imagine that the highway is simultaneously being used by semis, minivans, Formula One racers, model T fords, bicycles, mopeds, that thing Jack Black drove in Nacho Libre, school buses, motorcycles antique & new, large hotels that have somehow become mobile, vintage Bugattis, VW Bugs, Australian road trains, beat-up old pickups, clown cars and oh yes, some horses.
3. Imagine that the highway is a mile across, with one fairly wide lane right down the middle. The semis and the road trains have to stay in that one. Everybody else is allowed to go in whatever direction they need to or want to, within the constraints of the rules of the road (see point 4).
4. Imagine that the rules of the road were written specifically to address all of the interactions between the between all the different vehicles (see point 2) travelling in all the different directions (see point 3).

And last but not least -

5. Imagine the horses were there first!


Grant me all that, and I will readily agree that taking a kayak on the Hudson is EXACTLY like taking a horse on the highway!!!

Thus endeth the rant.

Please be aware that my tongue has at least partway planted in cheek (otherwise there wouldn't have been as many bad horse puns) for this post. I do need to get serious here at the end, though. I do want to mention, in the guy's defense - he wasn't saying that kayaks should be banned in NYC entirely, he was just saying that there are places where it doesn't make a whole lot of sense for a person to be hanging out in a kayak. I completely agree with him on that point. The question is, do you really want to flout the Public Trust Doctrine & carve out industry-only areas to keep recreational craft from causing problems, when there are already rules (and, one can at least hope, common sense) that should do the same thing? Furthermore, there were some interesting points made at the Tuesday night mapping meeting about the frustration that members of the professional maritime industry feel as their workplaces are gradually being turned over to developers & recreation (Exhibit A: Todd Shipyard Graving Dock).

I think anyone can respect that, even if we don't always like the way it's expressed.


Baydog said...

You had me glued to this post from the starting gate. There is room for everyone on the great Hudson, but the more aware the recreational boaters and kayakers are of the shipping channels, the less animosity there will be between the pilots and paddlers. You as kayakers really have the most diverse menu of areas in which you may explore. Paddle on Bonnie and those like you!

moonstruck said...

When I was a little boy, there was no safe harbor for recreational boats betwen the GW bridge and the Boathouse at the foot of steinway street in Astoria. the trip from the GW to the boat house was truly a "Dark Passage"

Dennis g

doryman said...

One good rant deserves another! The same argument has been used against walkers on the road and bicycles since the inception of the internal combustion engine. Might trumps right and tonnage wins every time, until the day when shear numbers of human powered contrivances overwhelms the masters of industry. (some tongue in cheek, some sticking out)

Baydog said...


O Docker said...

michael b got there first, but yes, there are many parallels with bicycle access on public highways.

That the laws give you access isn't enough to guarantee actual access. It's a constant battle with the people who institute the laws - city planners, highway architects and engineers, law enforcement, etc. And then there are the daily battles with highway users who don't understand what the laws are. And a few stupid cyclists who abuse their access or don't know the laws themselves make life difficult for everyone else.

I agree with everything you say, but 'behooves us' made me whinny.

I'm just worried what Joe will say about this.

Pat said...

In ye olden days, folks were more content to let Darwin sort the idiots out of the highways and waterways. Now, we expect more safety and are increasingly intolerant of error. So, more rules, more no-go areas, more attempts at separation of different traffic.

And, more begging from some of us for other water users to become educated.

Pandabonium said...

Brilliant stuff, Bonnie. Spot on.

I haven't run into that kind situation on the water, but as a private pilot I have, and thankfully, under FAA regs all aircraft are created equal (it's pretty amazing to be in a Cessna 172 and cue up for take off in the midst of airliners). Us little guys use the same runways and airways (for which there are also rules), but we also have to shoulder the same responsibility.

Michael B's point is well taken too.

Word Verif: psoodoot - winner of the 2012 Preakness.

Ol' Philosophizer said...

Some more philosophical points to consider (some tongue in cheek, some not):

1) Braking and swerving is easier on a highway than in a harbor where we puny kayakers take on the appearance of floating speed bumps;

2) You don't have to follow behind a paddler with a broom and shovel ... unless really bad things almost happen; and

3) Navigating a road is more instinctive than interpreting winds, tides and currents ... unless you're in England. (I paddle with a fairly experienced paddler who has tried the Mayor's Cup, yet was surprised when I told him that the current on the Hudson does not always flow south).

To me, paddling in the shipping channels of the Harbor would be like riding a bicycle on the NY State Thruway, probably because I'm a hick and somewhat uncomfortable in crowed situations.
I've never paddled in the Harbor, and never will unless accompanied by someone very familiar with that locale.But I can see where novice paddlers, who are urban residents, might not be as intimidated by the prospect. From the bridge of a tug, I bet it's hard to determine which paddlers know the "rules of the road," and which don't. Common sense may not be enough to avoid trouble without a good, working knowledge of how the river acts in all situations ... something that can only come with experience and teaching.

My solution to this problem: send all the rookie paddlers up to the country ... it's hard to get into too much trouble up here.

bonnie said...

Ooooh, I do have a few more thoughts but I also have a huge report due.

Ol' P demonstrates the sort of common sense that I think most paddlers looking at the Hudson would have. Unfortunately it does only take a few paddlers with a little less, uh, horse sense to make us all look bad - and they are out there.

The mapping project I mentioned really does seem to be an attempt to get the information that anyone needs to have to boat safely in our area. The focus is on improving Interesting & informative site & they are working to make it more useful.

More on that later, if I have time in the next week or so.

BTW, in case anyone was curious, the tired horse is named Cindy.

Anonymous said...

This makes me sound petty stupid, but I'm unaware the "horse on the highway" debate.

bonnie said...

Oh, no, not at all. You're in California & this is a totally NYC-centered debate. Our unique problem here is that recreational boating (especially of the varieties that get you really close to the water) really waned during the filthy years, when the river was just this side of dead. There were always some recreational boaters out there, but mostly people didn't want to get too close to the Hudson. During that time, the barges & tankers didn't have a whole lot of other traffic to worry about. Then Clean Water Act came along, and over a couple of decades the river got better & as it did, recreational boating enjoyed a resurgence. In addition, operations like NY Waterways & NY Water Taxi added a lot of small fast ferries going across the river. The whole navigational picture was changed by all of this in a way that wasn't welcomed by the "semis & road trains".

As a result there's some general frustration among the commercial set & I think kayaks are just the easiest members of the recreational revival to go after.

bonnie said...

In fact, speaking of how polluted the Hudson was reminds me of an interesting side note - to this day, the NYC Parks rules for canoeing & kayaking contain the following clauses, reflecting how bad the river was at one point:

F. Because the waters can be polluted, boaters should avoid water contact to the greatest degree possible.

G. Swimming, water skiing, windsurfing, scuba diving or practicing immersion escape techniques in the waters to which the launch site give access are prohibited.

Pat said...

Dillon Lake in Colorado has similarly restrictive language against water contact but for utterly different reasons -- the water is Denver's drinking water and very pure, and, at 9017 feet elevation, the water is extremely cold, even in late summer, and thus potentially deadly because of immersion shock and hypothermia to anyone who should be immersed.

bonnie said...


The NYC-area kayakers actually became aware of those NYC Parks rules when the Hudson River Park Trust suddenly realized a few years back that wow, they were about to open for their first official season & they needed some regulations pronto. They just lifted the NYC Parks canoe & kayak rules. The local kayakers read those & hit the roof. A person CANNOT learn to be a safe paddler without getting wet. There were a lot of other weird restrictions that we didn't like, too.

That story had a happy ending for everybody, though - the copy-and-paste provenance of the rules came out very fast, everyone seemed to agree that the overall situation had changed a lot since the NYC parks rules were written & the folks at the Trust were absolutely great about working with us to re-craft the older rules into something much more practicable, and Hudson River Park paddlers are now free to spend hot summer afternoons doing rescue & rolling practice by their docks.

Pandabonium said...

Come to think of it, some aircraft have also been sharing the Hudson...

clairesgarden said...

my horse is put safely to bed every night with her pyjamas on.
we daren't ride out on the (country) road because of the dangerous speeds the lorries and cars do. not a high volume road
but dangerous still.