CITY HALL — City officials outlined a plan for regulating commercial activity in the city's pedestrian plazas — specifically Times Square and its cadre of costumed characters — at a City Council hearing Wednesday, maintaining that the designated zones created under the legislation wold "create a little order” without hurting workers.
The proposed legislation would allow the city’s Department of Transportation to set rules governing activity in pedestrian plazas throughout the city, including the ones on which tourists, costumed performers, topless “desnudas” and ticket-sellers converge each day at the Crossroads of the World.
Police and the DOT have found themselves facing “a lack of explicit regulatory frameworks” for the 53 plazas that are currently open to the public throughout the city, as well as the 20 in planning and construction phases, DOT commissioner Polly Trottenberg said in her testimony.
In October, the NYPD deployed a new unit of 100 police officers to patrol Times Square, the unit’s commanding officer Capt. Robert O’Hare testified.
The city also added more traffic agents, but Trottenberg maintained “more action” was needed.
If the legislation passes, the DOT would be able to set up “flow zones” marked with white reflective tape for pedestrians to pass through.
Eight “designated activity zones,” measuring either 8-by-50 feet or 10-by-50 feet, would be set up for ticket sellers and performers to operate within, Trottenberg said.
The eight spaces would each be “bigger than a city bus,” leaving room to accommodate ticket sellers, costumed characters and other Times Square regulars, she added.
“These are not tiny little areas that no one can fit in,” Councilman Corey Johnson, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said during the testimony. “We’re not trying to put anyone out of business. We’re just trying to create a little order.”
Council members, several heads of Broadway theater organization, Times Square Alliance president Tim Tompkins and others spoke out in support of the legislation, maintaining it would mitigate the bad behavior and harassment leading to the arrests of costumed characters over the past several years.
But the performers and ticket sellers in attendance claimed it would restrict their freedom and hurt their business.
Many of the people who work as costumed characters in Times Square maintain their livelihoods depend on the tips they earn taking photos with tourists in the plazas.
A group from the Transport Workers Union Local 225 — which represents tour guides, ticket agents and dispatchers for tour buses that depart Times Square daily — showed up to voice their displeasure with the bill.
“If this bill takes effect, I’m going to be one of the first ones to get laid off,” one female ticket seller said during testimony.
Councilman Antonio Reynoso, meanwhile, grilled Trottenberg and O’Hare about the legislation, which he felt was motivated less by criminal activity and more by the topless “desnudas” that made tabloid headlines last summer.
He expressed concerns about cramping and competition within the designated zones, as well as performers and ticket sellers losing their jobs.
“We’re going to try and be nimble and make sure we have a system that works for everyone,” Trottenberg responded. “Our goal here is not to eliminate jobs.”
During testimony, O'Hare said that 16 "bad characters" have been arrested so far this year, compared to 15 total arrests last year.
Around 123 costumed characters were operating in Times Square at peak time last year, he added.
Reynoso suggested the increase in police patrolling Times Square’s plazas could have actually led to the surge in criminal activity among the costumed characters, stating that perhaps “more cops means more crime.”
“That’s not correct at all,” O’Hare countered, adding that the arrests were either complaint-driven or resulted from officers witnessing the incidents in question.
The success of the legislation would be measured in part by seeing pedestrian traffic flow within Times Square improve, he said.
“As far as complaints from the public of criminal behavior, hopefully that also drops,” he added.