The City Council heard testimony today on Intro. 1109-A, which would give DOT authority over designating and regulating pedestrian plazas across the city. DOT has carved out nearly 70 plazas since 2008, but its jurisdiction over those plazas remains ambiguous.
This matters for a few reasons. The reason that gets all the attention is the made-for-tabloids storyline of Times Square and its desnudas and costumed hustlers. The city wants more authority to dictate where people can legally work for tips in Times Square, and investing DOT with that authority makes more sense than handing plazas over to the Parks Department, which would come with a host of drawbacks.
But it also matters for smaller plazas throughout the city, especially ones without a business improvement district to manage the space. The small organizations responsible for running these plazas often struggle to cut through the red tape involved in getting a permit for, say, an amplified performance.
The legislation does not specify new rules for plazas, but rather gives DOT the mandate to develop and implement such rules.
In Times Square, DOT intends to follow many of the recommendations from the Times Square Alliance and local electeds in last year’s “Roadmap for a 21st Century Times Square” report. DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said DOT will classify zones where commercial activity and vending are permitted, the intent being to keep walking routes and public seating areas clear of performers working for tips.
Speaking outside City Hall with council members and the Naked Cowboy, Times Square Alliance President Tim Tompkins said the legislation doesn’t aim to stop performers, but rather to get a handle on the overly aggressive behavior of some of them. “We want a variety of activities, but we need to also recognize that for years now this has been a consistently growing problem,” he said.