New restrictions in Times Square that even Hulk can't break

New rules seek to reign in Times Square tip seekers.
New rules for Times Square took effect on Tuesday, limiting costumed characters and other tip-seekers to teal-painted zones.
New rules for Times Square took effect on Tuesday, limiting costumed characters and other tip-seekers to teal-painted zones. PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK • Minnie Mouse stood behind a painted line waving her arms to passing children. A Disney princess guided a girl to a patch of teal-coloured pavement before snapping a photo with her. The Hulk paced back and forth, bristling at the restrictions.

An animated sort of order came to Times Square on Tuesday, penning costumed characters and other tip-seekers to painted zones within its plazas. The performers mostly obeyed the rules as police officers monitored the square.

Not a single Elmo or Iron Man was seen being taken away in handcuffs or even clutching a summons. But the costumed characters were not happy about the new guidelines.

Dressed as Olaf from the movie Frozen, Mr Victor Aldea said the rules made it more difficult to make money. In the early afternoon he held up a single dollar bill he had earned so far as his colleague dressed as Minnie Mouse opened her purse to show that it was empty.

"I'm going to respect the rules for the moment," said Mr Aldea, 40.

The City Council voted to rein in the performers this year, after complaints that they were too aggressive in asking pedestrians for tips. Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the council's bill, which allowed the New York City Transportation Department to create new rules for pedestrian plazas.

In recent weeks, workers began painting the teal "activity zones" in Times Square between 42nd and 47th streets.

Costumed characters and ticket sellers are supposed to stay in the 2.4 by 6m boxes when they solicit money. Passers-by are directed to walk in "pedestrian flow zones". Signs remind tourists that tips are optional. If performers break the rules, they can be issued a criminal summons or even be arrested.

As sunshine spilled across the busy plazas on Tuesday afternoon, tourists occasionally stopped for a photo along 42nd Street, where more than a dozen characters were loitering. When one of Ms Robin Smith's relatives paid two Spider-Men US$5 (S$6.70) after taking their photo, Ms Smith approached them and said she wanted a follow-up performance for that high a fee. The Spider-Men began to dance, drawing laughs from her group.

Ms Smith, 48, who was visiting from North Carolina, said she appreciated the new rules because she did not like being followed in the past by people who were selling tour-bus tickets. Now the decision was hers.

"We don't feel like we're being harassed," she said.

As he walked through Times Square, Mr Alex Diner said the performers did not bother him. He works in the neighbourhood and believes the area has become too clean and too organised.

"We're getting to a point where it's getting sterile and I'm not thrilled with that," said Mr Diner, 38, who works in finance and lives in Manhattan.

Once emblematic of a seedier era in the city, Times Square has been transformed into a family-friendly tourist destination with a corridor of crowded pedestrian plazas. But some characters have not played nicely, including a man dressed as Spider-Man, who punched a police officer in 2014.

After complaints last summer over the proliferation of topless painted women, known as desnudas, Mr de Blasio said he would consider removing the plazas. The new rules were a compromise aimed at easing the increasingly chaotic atmosphere.

At least one performer said the new zones were good for business. Mr Robert Burck, known as the Naked Cowboy, said tips were up. He reached into his guitar and pulled out a wad of cash. Instead of wandering the plazas, he now performed in one zone and more people were stopping to watch.

"I love the boxes," he said. "I never would have thought I would."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2016, with the headline 'New restrictions in Times Square that even Hulk can't break'. Subscribe