With the summer just months away, local officials are calling for rules to be set for pedestrian plazas citywide that would let areas like Time Square keep what makes them unique — but allow people to feel comfortable and safe.
The Times Square Alliance gathered with elected officials and local employees on Monday morning to emphasize the need for New York City to regulate pedestrian plazas — which in the case of Times Square has recently seen a flood of costumed characters and painted naked women known as the desnudas soliciting for money.
The City Council recently introduction legislation that would give the city’s Department of Transportation the ability to manage and set forth rules for the pedestrian plazas throughout the city. The bill will be discussed during a public hearing on Wednesday.
During Monday’s rally, officials pointed at recent incidents that have occurred in Times Square in which New Yorkers, tourists and employees have faced negative experiences with those soliciting for money.
Over the weekend, a Times Square Spider-Man — later identified as Abdelamine El-Khezzan — was arrested on assault charges after allegedly kicking a Virginia woman who wouldn’t tip him after he posed with her children for a picture, according to the New York Post. He was released and due back to court on April 6.
“This is a real issue,” said Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance. “We’re not saying that all the people who are dress in costume behave this way, but there is a consistent and ongoing issue that needs to be dealt with.”
The Times Square Alliance also released top tweets from people detailing incidents that involved verbal abuse and inappropriate touching.
“Times Square is only a fun experience if you enjoy being groped by grown men in knockoff Disney character costumes,” wrote one Twitter user.
The Alliance added that in a recent survey, 61 percent of Times Square employees reported experiencing a negative encounter with a costumed character or other commercial solicitor. Out of those employees, 51 percent said they felt unsafe.
“I just want to feel safe and feel like you can have a swift commute to work and at the same time continue to have the entertainment and excitement [here],” said Ali Hoyt, who has been working in Times Square for two years.
Councilman Dan Garodnick, who represents a portion of Times Square and is co-sponsoring the bill, said that the regulations would allow different zones to be created where commercial activities and solicitations could take place while others that pedestrians would know they would not be confronted by such buskers.
“We need to crack down on the bad actors out here, we need rules that make sense,” Garodnick said. “In Times Square these rules are exactly what we need. A simple framework that lets everyone enjoy the benefits of the plazas, with the freedom to find the characters if they want to and to avoid them if they don’t.”
One of Times Square’s most known celebrities, The Naked Cowboy, also voiced — and sang — his support for the regulations and added that he sees it as a way to create a better environment for all.
“Times Square is the number one tourist destination in the world and I think with everyone’s participation, it’ll be even better this year,” he said. “ If I have to lose some of my own little freedom to run around, so be it. I think it will increase the quality of the performers.”
However during Monday’s press conference, members of the Transport Workers Union Local 225 were concerned that the legislation would allow the DOT to limit ticket sales and in the end take away jobs from those selling tickets for sightseeing tours.
James Muessig, a TWU Local 225 representative, added that the regulations would also limit where the ticket sellers could be and ultimately decrease ticket sales.
“I understand they’re having problems with Spider-Man, but why craft legislation to take care of the Spider-Man problem that puts these men out of business,” Muessig said. “They counted on this income.”
In response to the union members who showed up to Monday’s rally with signs saying “don’t kill union jobs,” Tompkins reassured them that the particular legislation was not looking to take away any jobs but instead just control what happens around the plazas.
“Times Square should be unusual, we say quirky is fine but creepy is not,” Tompkins said. “No category of activity would be banned…It’s simply allowing that this commercial activity be regulated.”