TIMES SQUARE — The city should set aside areas for the topless women and costumed characters who pose for pictures with tourists in Times Square for tips, according to a report from elected officials and business leaders in the area.
The report suggests designating Times Square's plazas as a public place known as "Times Square Commons" by officially demapping the plazas as streets. The plazas are still regarded as streets, and the report recommends the city pass a law removing that designation, which would help the city better regulate the area.
Three regulatory zones could then be put in place: Civic zones for passive activities such as street preachers, protests and musicians not seeking tips, pedestrian flow zones for unimpeded pedestrian traffic and the designated activity zones for the topless women, costumed characters and people hawking CDs or tourist bus tickets.
The report does not endorse the idea floated by Police Commissioner William Bratton and considered by Mayor Bill de Blasio of ripping out the pedestrian plazas.
“Times Square should be a place of freedom of expression, freedom of movement and creativity, without being a free-for-all,” Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, said in a statement. “The community’s proposal creates a constitutional and data-driven framework for rationally regulating one of the world’s great public spaces."
Tompkins, along with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, area City Councilmen Corey Johnson and Daniel Garodnick and Community Board 5, chaired the group. The recommendations will now be sent to the task force that de Blasio created to come up with solutions to the issues facing Times Square.
The city began cracking down on the area after massive media coverage of aggressive panhandling from the topless women, people selling CDs and costumed characters.
The mayor has criticized topless women in the area while acknowledging they have a legal right to be there, but said that maybe they should be regulated like a business. Neither being topless or panhandling is illegal in the city.
"As a human being and a parent I don't think its appropriate in the middle of one of the busiest squares in New York City that women should display themselves that way," the mayor said last month.
He added that he was open to the idea of ripping out the plazas, which were added by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to relieve pedestrian crowding on sidewalks.
"You could argue that those plazas have had some very positive impacts," de Blasio said last month. "You could also argue they come with a lot of problems and a lot of the surrounding business community have certainly cited those problems."
But the suggestion of ripping out the plazas caused a significant backlash from biking and pedestrian advocates and area business owners.
The report also recommends improvements to Times Square such as a Theater District congestion study to examine the use of traffic officers, improving pedestrian flow and the location of tour bus stops.
The NYPD's new "Times Square Unit" that will focus on quality-of-life issues should also receive special training to deal with the complex legal issues around aggressive panhandling and code enforcement.
DNAinfo New York reported Thursday that Times Square vendors faced a ticket blitz after the mayor vowed to address problems in the area in an "aggressive manner."
The report also suggests that all civil violations in the area should be forwarded to the Midtown Community Court and that the Manhattan District Attorney should also be involved.
"Times Square is screaming for a complete solution," Garodnick said in a statement. "We need a set of rules that is carefully crafted to provide for public safety, while also respecting the First Amendment. And that is exactly what we are proposing."
The panel de Blasio appointed is scheduled to issue recommendations by Oct. 1.