Bratton's Suggestion Of Tearing Up Times Square Pedestrian Plaza Draws Criticism

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Following numerous calls for an end to the topless, body painted women seeking tips for photographs in Times Square, State Sen. Ruben Diaz of the Bronx has a different solution.

He’s introducing legislation to ban all toplessness, male or female. Diaz’s proposed ban would end toplessness in any public place, except beaches.

“What I’m proposing, and I’m submitting a piece of legislation, is to be able to treat everyone equal,” Diaz told 1010 WINS. “So I’m trying to make it illegal to make it in the state’s streets to be half naked, a man or woman.”

On Thursday, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton offered his preferred solution: Tearing up the pedestrian plaza there.

“By ripping up the plaza that would not take care of the situation because the naked women and the Naked Cowboy and all the people they will move to another place,” Diaz said. “So the mayor will have to continue ripping up places and that will not do away with the problem.”

Bratton made the suggestion in the wake of growing complaints about the “desnudas,” or women wearing body paint and a thong, and aggressive costumed characters seeking tips for photos.

However, city Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito are very much against Bratton’s proposal, CBS2’s Marcia Kramer reported.

“This isn’t a treasure hunt where you start digging up streets. The bottom line is you should be dealing with the quality-of-life issues that face New Yorkers,” Stringer said.

“The City Council is considering its legislative options, but the speaker believes in and supports keeping pedestrian plazas,” Mark-Viverito’s spokesperson said.

The Times Square Advertising Coalition also didn’t like Bratton’s idea.

“After six years and $40 million spent by the City constructing the plazas, it would be a terrible mistake to eliminate them as the number one complaint from visitors before their construction was the lack of pedestrian space,” the TSAC said in a statement. “It is imperative that a solution is reached that addresses the harmful and negative activities that currently exist in the area.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio has formed a multi-agency task force to address the “growing problem,” and said he would consider the idea.

“We stand ready to work with the Mayor’s new task force to find a solution so that tourists and New Yorkers alike can again fully enjoy the bright lights and excitement of Times Square,” the TSAC said.

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 BRATTON’S FULL INTERVIEW

Bratton believes it would curtail the desnudas 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 said. “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.”

Tim Tompkins of the Times Square Alliance doesn’t like the idea.

“For the last 18 months, this administration has been building these plazas,” Tompkins told CBS2’s Matt Kozar. “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.

Paul Steely White, of the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, said pedestrian injuries have fallen 40 percent since the plazas were installed, Kramer reported.

“To suggest that we should go back to the ‘bad old days’ when pedestrians were literally falling into the road bed and being struck by motor vehicles, that’s simply wrong,” Steely White said.

The task force on problems in Times Square, co-chaired by Bratton, will report back to the mayor with recommendations Oct. 1. It includes representatives of numerous government departments like the District Attorney’s office and Department of Transportation, among many others.

“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 added.

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.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)