By Marcus E. Howard
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Costumed characters, painted women and anyone else working for tips in New York's Times Square will soon have to stay in special zones after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday signed a bill to bring more order to the bustling tourist attraction.
The law gives the city's Department of Transportation the authority to designate a handful of areas, each likely to be about 50-feet by 10-feet, where the legion of Elmos, Batmen and other mascots can solicit tips for posing for photographs. Other areas of the Times Square pedestrian plaza will be off limits to them.
Following a month for public comment and a May 23 hearing, the changes are expected to be implemented in early June, said Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg in an interview.
The bill, a year in the making, comes in response to reports of violence and aggressive behavior by some characters in Times Square.
City officials feared the presence of topless women wearing body paint would detract from the family-friendly atmosphere of Times Square, once infamous for its X-rated shops.
In 2015, more than 300 costumed characters, topless women and ticket vendors worked in Times Square, according to police. Since January, at least 16 of the workers have been charged with crimes, including aggressive soliciting.
On April 7, the New York City Council passed the legislation with overwhelming support. A Spider-Man character was among those watching from the council chamber's balcony.
Other characters and ticket sellers who depend on tips from tourists have opposed the measure as a restriction on their livelihoods.
"This has opened up an opportunity for a lot of people to support their families," Abdelamine Elkhezzani, who dresses as Spider-Man, told council members at a March 30 hearing.
Trottenberg said the law gives her department authority to implement safety rules and regulations for the city's more than 50 pedestrian plazas. Though violators would face arrest or a fine, she said the goal is to ensure safety and order.
The Times Square Alliance, a business association that provides security and clean-up services in the area, was one of the measure's biggest backers.
(Reporting by Marcus E. Howard; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)