NYC Starts Work on Pedestrian Flow Zones in Times Square

What to Know

  • New pedestrian flow zones are being installed at Duffy Square, between 46th and 47th streets on the Broadway plaza space
  • It will restrict characters' movements and keep them from blocking pedestrians in traffic-free parts of the square
  • It's part of the mayor's efforts to rein in pushy panhandlers who have flooded the square

The city has started work on the installation of pedestrian flow zones in Times Square, part of Mayor de Blasio's effort to regulate costumed characters there -- and at least one Elvis isn't pleased with the move. 

The Department of Transportation started installing activity and pedestrian flow zones Wednesday night at Duffy Square, between 46th and 47th streets on the Broadway plaza space.

Eight blue-area Designated Activity Zones will be marked for performers who want to offer photo opportunities to tourists. Those are the only places where they'll be allowed to ask for money. 

Under a law signed by Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio in April, street performers and costumed characters can be issued summonses or even face arrest if they are caught operating outside the eight designated rectangles. Each area is painted teal and measures 8 feet by 50 feet.

Some lawyers and performers say the new rules infringe on performers' First Amendment rights.

"It's the wrong approach. It invites litigation through a civil case or possibly could be used as a defense in a criminal case," lawyer Norman Siegel said. "The legislation has created a no-free-expression zone in the quintessential public space, the Crossroads of the World."

But attorney Linda Steinman, representing the Times Square Alliance business group, said the new rules are consistent with case law permitting restrictions on the time, place and manner of speech.

"It's not a ban on anything," Steinman said.

A costumed Elvis in Times Square Wednesday was not happy with the new setup, calling the regulation a violation of freedom of speech. 

"I'm not going to be treated like I'm in jail. That's what it feels like," he said. 

Some of the conflict has been over the expectation of tipping after the performers take pictures with tourists.

Times Square Alliance president Tim Tompkins said that in the past a lot of tourists didn't realize a tip was expected and the performers were often "aggressive about insisting on a tip."

The organization originally handed out fliers to tourists reminding them that tipping is optional. But as the new zones go into effect starting June 21, the alliance will be posting signs with the message, "If you take a photo with an entertainer, please note tipping is expected."

A team of 10 city workers will begin an education blitz next week to inform the performers and the public about the new rules.

The new legislation also gives the city Department of Transportation control over pedestrian plazas throughout the city, including people's conduct, litter and traffic flow.

Times Square draws 39 million visitors from around the world each year in addition to millions of New Yorkers.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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