Last week, the New York City Councilmen Corey Johnson and Dan Garodnick introduced a bill which would allow the Department of Transportation (“DoT”) to implement new regulations for pedestrian plazas in New York City, most notably Times Square. The goal of the regulations is to improve the flow of pedestrian traffic and better regulate the wide range of commercial activity, which ranges from local businesses to independent vendors, including the costumed characters and other eccentricities that have become associated with Times Square’s unique character.
Under the bill’s, the DoT would use reflective tape, signs, and a new unit of roughly 100 police officers to create highly visible, marked areas for different types of activity. This would include designated “flow zones,” marked by reflective tape, which would essentially be special lanes to keep pedestrian traffic moving. The DoT would also create multiple “designated activity zones,” at an estimated ten-by-fifteen feet each, set aside for commercial activity, entertainment, or solicitation by groups or individuals.
Previous attempts at regulating commercial activity in highly trafficked areas, including a bill introduced last year, have failed to gain traction amid First Amendment concerns, particularly regarding Free Speech. The most contentious issue has been how to best handle unwanted solicitation, or what some characterize as harassment, by costumed characters, topless women in bodypaint (also called “desnudas”), and other unique characters in Times Square. For the individuals in question, Times Square is a public space in which they are expressing themselves, and they view them, and even Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriquez emphasized “this is not about Elmo.” Regarding concerns about the enforcement of the new regulations, NYPD Captain Robert O’Hare, who commands the Times Square Unit, made clear that the goal “is not to criminalize this,” but acknowledged that non-compliance may warrant civil or criminal action.
The bill could be voted upon as soon as April 7, 2016. Should the bill pass and be signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio, the Department of Transportation will begin the rule-making process, including a 30-day public comment period.
Finally, for your further amusement, here is Batman and company at City Hall to speak out against the proposed bill: