By Katie Reilly
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City will try and impose order on the chaos of Times Square with new rules to control the costumed characters and women clad in little more than body paint who have drawn criticism for aggressive behavior in seeking tips from tourists.
The city will deploy a dedicated police unit for Times Square - the heart of Manhattan's dense theater district and a hub for tourists - and grant authority to the New York City Department of Transportation to regulate the use of plazas for commercial activity, city officials said in a press release on Thursday.
A September report by city council members and the Times Square Alliance, a business group, proposed designated zones for people engaging in commercial activity, including the costumed mascots - ranging from Elmo to Spider-Man - and topless women who pose for pictures with tourists.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo have both criticized the street performer as threatening to drag Times Square back to the "bad old days" when the area was a magnet for prostitutes, panhandlers and drug dealers.
Councilman Corey Johnson, an author of the report and a member of the task force created by de Blasio to assess the problem, said the details of the new rules have yet to be worked out.
"The execution of the plan is incredibly important, and that is yet to be determined," Johnson said.
"Times Square is a quirky and chaotic place. It’s the crossroads of the world, but it should be a place that people should come to without having to worry about being harassed or harangued when they’re just trying to navigate through Times Square," he said.
The September report proposed the creation of "civic zones" for events and programming, "flow zones" for unimpeded pedestrian traffic and "designated activity zones" where the performers would be able to solicit money for photographs or entertainment.
The announcement on Thursday tasked the Department of Transportation with considering the best way to regulate the area, including potential designated areas.
The city will also limit street fairs in the area and conduct studies about traffic flow to limit congestion and improve safety, according to the press release.
Leaders of the Times Square Alliance, Tim Tompkins and Robert Kafin, praised the de Blasio administration for the plan and said they looked forward to working with city officials work out details.
(Reporting by Katie Reilly; Editing by Leslie Adler)