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