Mayor de Blasio's Times Square task force releases its recommendations

NEW YORK (WABC) -- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's task force has unveiled its recommendations on the future of Times Square, including regulating costumed characters and topless women panhandling.

Under the plan, the women and panhandlers would be restricted to certain areas of Times Square.

The immediate recommendations:

-The NYPD is deploying a dedicated NYPD officer detail in Times Square. This dedicated group of officers will be able to familiarize themselves with the unique challenges in Times Square and provide continuous deterrence of illegal behavior.

-Give visitors information on how to safely enjoy Times Square. The Department of Consumer Affairs, in partnership with the Times Square community, will provide information to tourists and visitors to protect them from unwanted solicitation, pickpocketing and other problematic behavior.

-The administration will complete capital construction of the plazas. Many current issues with congestion and pedestrian flow are a result of the ongoing construction of the Broadway plazas and the reconstruction of 7th Avenue, the city said.

While the construction is ongoing, the city will:

-Add traffic enforcement agents and crossing guards, where appropriate, during peak times. These agents will keep both pedestrian and vehicular traffic moving smoothly.

-Limit street-permitted activity (such as street fairs) in the area. Street fairs, and other uses of the streets permitted by the mayor's office serve an important civic and community function, the mayor said. However, they also contribute to traffic congestion, which is already negatively impacted by the ongoing construction activity in Times Square. Until construction in Times Square is complete, the city will ban this activity on side streets in the area (42nd Street to 50th Street; from 6th Avenue to 7th Avenue and Broadway to 8th Avenue), and in partnership with the NYPD and the Times Square community, take steps to limit permitted activity in other areas, including the plazas and avenues.

-Evaluate other short-term measures to improve congestion and traffic flow. The New York City Department of Transportation will undertake a short-term analysis to determine what immediate changes can be made to improve mobility and safety during the construction.

-Eliminate unnecessary obstructions across the area, such as construction materials and equipment, unneeded and duplicate signs, and, where possible, unused news kiosks, and telephone booths.

-Create a stakeholder working group. This group, composed of representatives from relevant implementation agencies and local stakeholders, will see these recommendations through and monitor emergent issues in Times Square.

Also included are special zones designated for so-called "constitutionally protected solicitation".

Mayor de Blasio took to the radio to discuss the plan. "We are clearly going to move towards this kind of segmentation of Times Square, where certain activities are allowed in some areas, others in other areas is a very strong recommendation," said the mayor.

It would impact the painted women in the area, and many feel the task force is moving in the right direction. "For me to see that, with my young daughter, the half-naked girls, I'm not very happy with that because this place is for a lot of children," said one tourist Kusum Mistry.

Another task force recommendation suggests costumed characters should be taxed as a business. "I think people should be paying taxes anyway, so it's not a bad thing," said a man in the role of Superman.

Eliminating the pedestrian plazas, as task force co-chair NYPD Commissioner Bratton initially suggested, is not part of the overall plan. The City Council still needs to vote on a number of the recommendations.

Still to be determined, Bratton said, is the approach for dealing with topless women and costumed characters in Times Square. "We have already put together a 106, 107 person detail for the square, to not chase the painted ladies or the costume characters. They are a part of what goes on in the square, legally protected at this particular time. but I think you may be seeing more regulations relative to where they can perform. And that's some of the details that we are going to determine going forward."

In response, Tim Tompkins, President of the Times Square Alliance, and Robert Kafin, Chairman of the Times Square Alliance issued a statement:

"We are pleased that the administration has endorsed and supported the key elements of the community's plan, and we look forward to working with them and our elected officials to hammer out the specifics of implementation so that Times Square can continue to be the economic and job growth engine that it has been in recent years."

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