Elmo, Batman, Minnie, and the rest of the gang may soon no longer have free reign in Times Square, after the City Council passed a bill that could create special areas for the costumed performers and desnudas — the painted, topless ladies — in the plazas.
This new legislation would give the Department of Transportation the authority to make rules for the more than 50 pedestrian plazas across the city. But right now, the focus is on Times Square, and the DOT offered a draft proposal for the plazas there last week. The plan calls for eight “activity zones” between 42nd and 47th streets. Each section will likely be about eight-to-ten feet by 50 feet, with about 50 or so performers — including those ticket hawkers trying to sell tours — assigned to each one, and where tourists would have to enter for the authentic Times Square experience of being aggressively solicited for tips. The plan also designates “flow zones” for pedestrians who find themselves in the Crossroads of the World and want to get out of there as soon as possible.
Last fall, the city put together a Times Square Task Force, after people, politicians, and some local tabloids freaked out about the topless women and the characters, a bunch of whom had been arrested at different times for alleged aggressive panhandling or harassment. The task force had proposed some recommendations to help New Yorkers, businesses tourists, and performers co-exist, which included amping up the NYPD presence. Back in February, the mayor’s office told Daily Intelligencer that they’d implemented all the proposals except the ones that required new laws — and that’s where the City Council comes in. One item on that legislative agenda: giving the Department of Transportation the power to regulate commercial activity in Times Square and all pedestrian plazas. The current bill stems from that recommendation.
Times Square performers aren’t thrilled about the legislation. “It is not right, this is apartheid, what’s being proposed here,” a Joker testified during hearings about the bill last week. “We provide an immense entertainment. The only people who are upset, basically, are people who want free pictures. Otherwise, you just don’t get the pictures.”
The bill now heads to Mayor de Blasio’s desk. If he signs it, the Department of Transportation — which still must present a finalized Times Square proposal — predicts these regulations could go into effect sometime at the start of peak tourist season, otherwise known as summer.