New York City Council approves DOT control over pedestrian plazas, costumed characters

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Thursday, April 7, 2016
Spiderman, other costumed characters testify at hearing on proposed Times Square changes
A.J. Ross is live in Times Square with the latest details.

TIMES SQUARE (WABC) -- The full New York City Council approved a measure Thursday that will make it easier to control the costumed characters and painted women in Times Square.

On Wednesday, the city council's Transportation Committee passed the legislation that would give the DOT control over pedestrian plazas throughout the city.

The changes could limit where costumed characters, painted women and bus-ticket sellers operate. The push for change follows an uptick in complaints about aggressive panhandling in Times Square.

Costumed superheroes and villains found common ground at a New York City council hearing last week with characters like Spider-Man, Penguin and the Joker all testifying against proposed rules designed to limit run-ins with tourists in pedestrian plazas including Times Square.

Keith Albahae, with his Joker-green hair and purple suit, told members of the council's committee on transportation that he was the one who had experienced harassment.

"I've been spit on, and I defended myself by spitting back," the 49-year-old from Brooklyn said.

"It is not right, this is apartheid, what's being proposed here," he said. "We provide an immense entertainment. The only people who are upset basically are people who want free pictures. Otherwise, you just don't get the pictures. Nobody forces you to take pictures and if somebody does then that's on them."

But city officials said this isn't about eliminating people's jobs, it's about stopping unwarranted and aggressive solicitation.

"The pedestrian plazas have helped to protect people from the crush of traffic, but they also have increased the space for solicitors of every type to simply take over Times Square," City Councilman Daniel Garodnick said.

In a recent survey, 61 percent of Times Square employees reported experiencing a negative encounter with a costumed character or commercial solicitor, with 51 percent of those respondents saying that interaction made them feel unsafe, according to the Times Square Alliance.

After the vote, Alliance president Tim Tompkins issued the following statement:

"The passage of this bill ensures that the pedestrian plazas not only in Times Square, but also throughout all five boroughs, will be vibrant and successful public spaces. We thank all those who voted for the bill, especially Councilmembers Johnson, Garodnick, Rodriguez and Council Speaker Mark-Viverito for their leadership. Nor would this bill have been remotely possible without the active and engaged leadership of Mayor de Blasio and his team and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. The legislation was also developed collaboratively with Borough President Gale Brewer, Community Board 5, the NYC BID Association, and the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership. We are immensely grateful to them all.

"Finally, we commit to working closely with government officials and all affected parties, including those working hard to earn a living on the plazas in Times Square, to thoughtfully address concerns that have been raised during the legislative process. By creating a better environment for those who work in the plazas and those who work in and visit the area, Times Square can continue to be the major economic engine it has always been, producing directly or indirectly one-tenth of all jobs in the city according to a 2012 study."