Black-Car Blight

First the bankers descended on Battery Park City. Then came another plague for the neighborhood.

In general, a lack of vigilance on the part of financial institutions, which are ostensibly committed to reducing black-car blight, is a common quandary, says Battery Park City resident Belfer. "Sometimes there is a lull in the problem," says Belfer. "Then it starts up again."

On a recent Tuesday night, local resident Jim Vail is out walking his dogs alongside the esplanade in Battery Park City. As he strolls along the empty sidewalks, he passes a black Lincoln Town Car, idling at the curb. A few steps later, he passes another. Then another, and another.

illustration: Jorge Colombo

At roughly the same time, a few hundred feet away, a Town Car pulls up in front of the Merrill Lynch headquarters on the north side of the World Financial Center. From there, the caravan of black cars stretches back down the block, past a movie theater, around a corner, past a hotel, around another corner, past the Irish Hunger Memorial, around one final corner, and past the tree where Vail's dog has just taken a whiz.

Vail hardly seems to notice the 50 or so Town Cars, the smattering of well-tinted SUVs, and two stretch limousines. Just part of the backdrop of Battery Park City. "They could be more observant of stop signs," says Vail. "Otherwise I don't think they're doing much harm."

Ultimately, the invisible hand of the marketplace may have a greater impact on the fate of man and black car in and around the financial district than the outcry of neighbors less sanguine than Vail. In the aftermath of the '87 stock market crash, for instance, many black- car companies simply went belly-up.

But for the time being, the market is riding high, and so are the black cars. "No question about it, it's been a good year," says Neil Weiss, the editor and publisher of Black Car News. "Business is thriving. They've got more work than they have drivers."

Weiss, for one, believes that the people who are bothered by black cars could use a little perspective. After all, it wasn't long ago in the history of Lower Manhattan that residents were grappling with how to get rid of dead horses rather than lively Lincolns.

"They're seeing too many black Lincoln Town Cars riding around," says Weiss. "That bothers them? I don't understand that. Maybe they're riding around in $70,000 cars rather than $40,000 cars. Maybe Town Cars are low-grade for them?"

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