For New Yorkers who wish they could stroll through Times Square hawker-free, legislation recently introduced to the City Council may offer a solution.
A group of elected officials and neighborhood advocates gathered in Duffy Square Monday to address the need for better regulation in the area’s pedestrian plazas, citing the ongoing issue of harassment and aggressive solicitation from costumed characters and other commercial solicitors.
“Just two days ago, a tourist in Times Square faced off in a physical altercation with Spiderman, allegedly after a dispute over a tip,” Council Member Dan Garodnick of the 4th district said during the press conference at 46th and Broadway. “Come to New York, duke it out with a superhero. Is that what we really want to be known for?”
The legislation, introduced by Mr. Garodnick and Council Member Corey Johnson, among other elected officials, would give the NYC Department of Transportation the authority to regulate ticket sellers, desnudas and costumed characters in the pedestrian plaza.
According to Mr. Garodnick, the solution to better manage Times Square is to create different zones—one area designated for commercial activity and solicitation, another for general civic activity, and another where visitors would be able to pass through without being bothered.
A council hearing regarding the bill is scheduled to be held this Wednesday. If the legislation passes, the DOT will then put forward its own proposal on how to regulate pedestrian plazas in Times Square, as well as other parts of the city.
Tim Tompkins, President of the Times Square Alliance, said no type of activity will be banned, and that intention of the bill is not to generalize the performers in the area.
“We are not saying that all the people who are dressed in costume behave this way, but there is a consistent and ongoing issue that needs to be dealt with,” he said.
Well-known street performer Robert John Burck, better known as the Naked Cowboy, has been working in Times Square since the late 1990’s. He was the only street performer to stand with elected officials and the Times Square Alliance today in full support of the legislation.
“If I have to give up some of my own little freedom to run around, so be it. I think it’ll increase the quality of the performers,” Mr. Burck explained.
But not all area employees are on board. Representatives from the Transport Workers Union of the America Local 225, which represents ticket sellers in the area, are concerned that the bill will threaten their jobs. Union representatives argue it will give the Commissioner of Transportation authority to decide that they are not allowed in the plazas due to the existence of another bill termed the ‘Ticket Seller License Law’, which they say proposes banning ticket sales in pedestrian plazas.
Mr. Tompkins emphasized that the bill would not limit jobs, but that it would focus on bad actors. In an effort to display the scale of the harassment in the area, he read anonymous testimonials gathered by the Times Square Alliance to the crowd.
One testimonial by a Times Square media employee named Maritza described how “the characters will constantly touch and try to grab me while I’m walking through just trying to get to work.”
Mr. Garodnick said the aim of the legislation is not to fundamentally change Times Square, but simply to ensure that visitors can come through the area and be able to shape the type of experience they have.
“We need to protect the uniqueness and excitement of Times Square, while bringing some order out of the chaos,” he said.