In line, Iron Man! Times Square char­ac­ters crimped

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By NIU YUE in New York

Times Square, the “Cross­roads of the World”, has set up a bar­ri­cade that even Su­per­man can’t get through.

“This is very bad. I feel like an an­i­mal,” said L.M., who de­clined to pro­vide his name and was cos­tumed as the Mar­vel char­ac­ter Su­per­man in Times Square, as he has been al­most daily for five years, pos­ing for pho­tos with tourists to col­lect tips.

What’s so “bad” for L.M. are the new “Des­ig­nated Ac­tiv­ity Zones” that went into ef­fect in Times Square on June 21. Cos­tumed char­ac­ters, ticket ped­dlers and any­one else per­form­ing for a tip or sale are re­stricted to eight newly painted 8-by-50-foot green zones be­tween 42nd and 47th streets.

They were es­tab­lished af­ter the New York City Coun­cil re­ceived many com­plaints about cos­tumed char­ac­ters in Times Square ha­rass­ing peo­ple for hand­outs. Ac­cord­ing to the Trans­porta­tion De­part­ment’s new rules, vi­o­la­tors cross­ing the line could face fines of up to $500 or even jail time.

“It feels like a jail,” said A.F., dressed as Iron Man, who also de­clined to pro­vide his full name. “I used to earn $60 a day, but only 20 bucks now.”

L.M. also com­plained that he now makes $7 to $12 an hour, half of what he used to earn be­fore the zones. “We think they’re tak­ing away our First Amend­ment rights,” he said. “We protested last month. They lis­tened, but didn’t do any­thing.”

A re­cent check on the re­stricted ar­eas found Mar­vel he­roes and Dis­ney char­ac­ters pac­ing back and forth in their boxes, wav­ing at passers-by. Few pedes­tri­ans were walk­ing into the zones to have a photo taken with the char­ac­ters. A few feet away, NYPD of­fi­cers and Times Square Al­liance se­cu­rity staff kept a close eye on the per­form­ers.

“The po­lice are watch­ing, but not that strict,” L.M. said. “No­body has been caught, as far as I know.”

The Times Square Al­liance, a long-time pub­lic ser­vice provider for the area, said it was happy with the change.

“We are gen­er­ally pleased with the ini­tial level of en­force­ment and com­pli­ance,” said Tim Tomp­kins, president of the al­liance. “We will con­tinue to mon­i­tor im­ple­men­ta­tion and ex­pect that there will likely be some ad­just­ments in the early stages.”

A sur­vey con­ducted by the al­liance found that more than 90 per­cent of peo­ple who work in the Times Square area are in fa­vor of the new rules.

Umaru Bar­rie, a tour bus ticket seller, also likes the rule. “Noth­ing’s changed for my busi­ness,” he said. “I just bring peo­ple into the zone and talk to them. It’s a bet­ter move for the tourists. In the past, per­form­ers and sell­ers used to fight over get­ting peo­ple’s at­ten­tion, but not any­more.”

Liu, a tourist from China, said he didn’t know about the zones un­til he was in­ter­viewed. “Times Square is a must-go place for me,” he said, “and I am happy to see it more or­ga­nized.”

“I was once grabbed by one of those char­ac­ters,” said Jeremy Le­vitt, who is from South Africa and works in Times Square. “In the past, you had to watch out for those peo­ple. But I feel more com­fort­able now.”

Russ Lin­der, a lo­cal res­i­dent, also fa­vors the change. “I think it’s a good thing, but it is hard to say whether the rule is ef­fec­tive for now,” he said. “As more peo­ple re­al­ize and obey the reg­u­la­tions, I think it will be­come more or­ga­nized.”

Nancy Kong and Judy Zhu in New York con­trib­uted to this story.

ZHU / FOR CHINA DAILY JUDY

“Min­nie Mouse” guides a child to take a pic­ture in a new “Des­ig­nated Ac­tiv­ity Zone” in Times Square. “Iron Man”, a Times Square char­ac­ter

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