NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — With complaints mounting, topless women and aggressive costumed characters have led NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton to say he wants to rip up the pedestrian plaza in Times Square.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has formed a multiagency task force to address the “growing problem,” and said he would consider the idea.
Bratton offered his proposed solution in an exclusive interview with 1010 WINS. Bratton said Thursday that he would like to see the streets restored to the area and the pedestrian plaza created under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg eliminated.
“I’d prefer to just dig the whole damn thing up and put it back the way it was,” Bratton told 1010 WINS reporter Juliet Papa.
WEB EXTRA: CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL INTERVIEW
Bratton believes it would curtail topless women and costumed characters trolling for cash because there would be pedestrian and motor vehicle traffic flow, not a static gathering point, Papa reported.
“It would eliminate this area where people just hang out,” Bratton said. “The activity is not occurring anywhere else in the area.”
Following Bratton’s comments, de Blasio told reporters in Queens that returning the Times Square area to vehicular traffic is one of the many options being considered by the task force.
“That’s a very big endeavor, and like every other option, comes with pros and cons, so we’re going to look at what those pros and cons would be,” de Blasio told reporters, including WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb. “You could argue that those plazas have had some very positive impacts. You could also argue they come with a lot of problems, and a lot of the surrounding business community has certainly cited those problems. So we’ll give that a fresh look.”
But as CBS2’s Matt Kozar reported, Tim Tompkins of the Times Square Alliance is fuming over the idea of ripping up the pedestrian plazas.
“For the last 18 months, this administration has been building these plazas,” Tompkins said. “Do you know how much it’s going to cost to rip them up? Do you know what a disruption it’ll be to Times Square to rip them up? It would make no sense.”
Tompkins said the city created the pedestrian plazas for safety reasons, because the overcrowded sidewalks were forcing people into the streets.
He said the solution is to regulate the costumed characters and the painted topless women.
New Yorker Anthony Gugliemo agreed, saying the plazas are now part of the fabric of the area.
“I don’t think tearing up the plazas is a solution at all, just because this is what Times Square is,” Gugliemo said. “This is what brings these people to the store; brings everybody to the businesses. And you sit down; you have a good time. Especially at nighttime, you get see the lights and everything.”
Others also told 1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten they did not want to see the pedestrian mall done away with.
“People get to sit down,” one man said. “There’s so very few places to sit down in New York.”
And at least one of the body-painted women was not thrilled about the idea either.
Lourdes Carrasquillo, one of the topless painted ladies, said posing for pictures pays the bills. She said police do not hassle her.
“A lot of cops love me,” she said.
But Carrasquillo said she is not feeling much love from Bratton at all with his plan.
“That’s illegal,” she told CBS2’s Kozar. “We have rights.”
But livery and taxi drivers deal with standstill traffic at the Crossroads of the World, and they want the plazas gone.
“Traffic is terrible,” one cab driver said. “I think the mayor has to do something.”
“There is too much traffic in Times Square,” said another cabbie. “We need to open it one more lane at least.”
The cab driver said he has had fares jump out in the middle of the gridlock, leaving him fareless and stuck in traffic.
Mayor Bloomberg announced the Times Square pedestrian plaza plan in 2009 as a trial, and the plaza became permanent in 2010. The renovation project cost $55 million.
The task force on problems in Times Square, co-chaired by Bratton, will report back to the mayor with recommendations Oct. 1.
“Millions of families and visitors come to Times Square every year to see and experience the bustling metropolis of New York City – the Crossroads of the World,” de Blasio said in a statement. “Yet that experience has been diminished by the proliferation of topless individuals and costumed characters who too often harass people and expose families to inappropriate acts.
“To ensure all are welcome, and to continue the great success that is Times Square, the city will aggressively pursue every avenue for regulating these behaviors. This task force will identify the best legal and regulatory ways to move forward and keep Times Square the popular destination site for visitors and families from New York City and across the world,” the mayor said in a statement.
The mayor previously said the city was looking at several options to tackle the problem including “parkland” status for Times Square, which would allow a ban, licenses and IDs for all street performers, including costumed characters, and new zones.
Though toplessness is not illegal in New York, aggressive panhandling and aggressive solicitation are illegal. De Blasio had said collecting money for posing for pictures is a business transaction, which opens the door for oversight.
Bratton told Papa the NYPD is looking into the labor practices of so-called managers, whether taxes are being paid, residency requirements and other options, Papa reported.
There has been growing controversy behind the nearly naked women who pose for photos with tourists in exchange for cash. The women often wear only body paint and a thong. They call themselves “desnudas,” Spanish for “naked.” Two uniformed NYPD officers were reassigned Wednesday after being spotted taking selfies with the topless models.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said the women posing for the photos are breaking the law and undermining efforts to keep the tourist area family friendly. He told NY1 on Wednesday that the situation is beginning to remind him of the seedy days of the “bad old Times Square.”
But Bratton said Times Square won’t revert back to days of yore.
“Let’s get real, it’s not slipping back to the bad old days,” Bratton said. “I’m police commissioner. I remember the bad old days. It’s never going to happen.”