Back in August, amid a rash of empty threats that Times Square's pedestrian plazas would be turned back into car lanes, Mayor de Blasio announced that he had instated a new multiagency task force that would address the "growing problem" of "topless individuals" and costumed characters that frequented them.
The new, affectionately-named Topless Task Force would "study the legal and oversight issues associated with regulating topless individuals and costumed characters," the mayor said. It is currently legal for women to appear topless in public in New York, and has been for some time, but de Blasio says he thinks this is wrong when it happens in Times Square.
It turns out that said task force spent the first several weeks of its tenure not convening. The mayor's office has confirmed that it will meet for the first time today.
Luckily, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and her trusty Times Square Alliance have remained vigilant. (This is unsurprising, considering that they were the ones who first raised concerns about "aggressive" desnudas and costumed characters over the summer, prompting a flood of tabloid coverage.)
In addition to an intricate grid of freedom zones across the pedestrian plazas (official name: the "Times Square Commons"), the alliance's new report outlines a multi-pronged attack on what it deems the Big Times Square Issues:
- 1. Aggressive solicitation and predatory behavior by large number of players
- 2. Continued pedestrian congestion at peak times, exacerbated by solicitation activities
- 3. Severe traffic congestion throughout the Theater District
"It is possible to respect first amendment rights while protecting pedestrians from scams and aggressive panhandling," said Councilmember Corey Johnson in a statement.
The full report [PDF] details three types of commons zones—"Civic Zones" for free-speech actives like political protesting, panhandling, and pamphleteering; "Activity Zones" for cash-passing desnudas, costumed characters, ticket sellers, and fake buddhist monks; and "Pedestrian Flow Zones" simply for walking.
In addition to zoning, the alliance would like to conduct a congestion study of Times Square, homing in on the factors that they believe clog traffic, like street fairs and the steady, stop-and-go parade of tourist busses.
Finally, the report includes a ringing endorsement of the NYPD's recently-implemented Times Square Unit, arguing that the ramped-up police presence in the area has "already started paying dividends." The alliance is calling for monthly meetings between these officers and the Midtown Community Court, where they'd like to see files maintained for "repeat offenders" in the aggressive panhandler community.
The Times Square Alliance will present its plan to the Topless Task Force today, which will in turn report on its findings on October 1st. In the meantime, tourists continue to enjoy things just the way they are.