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New Zones Painted In Times Square To Regulate Costumed Characters

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New zones were designated in Times Square overnight in an effort to regulate costumed characters and other street performers.

The areas colored green on the map will be so-called "chill zones" where pedestrians can relax without concern about being approached by costumed characters, the topless painted ladies and others.

It also includes "designated activity zones" - identified by blue paint - where people can perform, pose for pictures and solicit money and purple "express lanes" for people to walk through freely without any hassle.

"It encompasses any entertainers, costumed characters, ticket sellers," said Robert O'Hare, commanding officer of the Times Square unit.

"We will also have signage that clearly communicates what activity zones people should be in," said Ed Pincar, deputy commissioner of the Manhattan borough of the Department of Transportation.

Times Square Zones Map
(credit: Times Square Alliance)

The move came after numerous complaints from pedestrians about aggressive panhandling, fights over tips and even arrests.

Last month, a man known as "the hug guy" was arrested for allegedly punching a tourist after jumping into her picture then demanding she pay him.

Other incidents include a Spider-Man allegedly punching a police officer, an Elmo being arrested for allegedly harassing people and yelling anti-Semitic slurs and a "Toy Story" Woody allegedly groping women.

"These people are horrible," Upper West Side resident Daniella Lattes told CBS2's Janelle Burrell. "They attack people, they fight with each other."

"It's kind of frustrating," a tourist told 1010 WINS' John Montone. "They come up and take a picture right away and after they take the picture they ask for you for oh, $5, $10."

Thursday morning, CBS2 watched an Elsa and a Spider-Man snap a picture with this tourist then show her a card asking for tips. But they were unsuccessful and think the new zones will make it even harder to make cash.

"It's a small space for everyone," the Elsa character said.

Another costumed character, Oscar Rodriguez, insists the arrest from aggressive and sometimes harassing characters are the exceptions.

"I've been living in New York for 10 years," he said. "This is my job."

According to the Times Square Alliance, the non-profit that works to improve and promote Times Square, 61 percent of Times Square employees reported having a negative encounter with the characters while 51 percent of those people say the interaction made them feel unsafe.

As for the new zones, police say there will be penalties for violators.

"Starts off with a civil ramification as well as criminal ramification, but we fully expect voluntary compliance from the majority of characters," O'Hare said.

Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, said they'll monitor the zones and the city might expand them in needed, WCBS 880's Marla Diamond reported.

"The intent is to allow people who are legitimately trying to earn a living, to earn a living, but also to allow people who just want to pass through to not feel like they're being harassed or hustled," he said.

But not everyone is convinced.

"It's a place where people can roam freely and it's not the best idea," said Upper West Side resident Susan Zohn. "I think you'd do better to cover up the topless women and naked cowboy."

Officials from the Department of Transportation say starting Monday, they'll have ambassadors in Times Square educating people about the new rules. Full enforcement begins June 21.

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