The pavilions reduced pedestrian injuries in the most highly-trafficked part of New York City, but they've also given crowd-gathering (and at times unsavory) characters more room to roam.

By Samantha Shankman
August 24, 2015
The Crossroads of the World: Times Square
Credit: © Marshall Ikonography / Alamy

There is a debate rippling through New York right now that may impact your next trip to Manhattan. Mayor Bill de Blasio recently proposed removing Times Square’s relatively new pedestrian plazas, which years ago replaced roads that used to crisscross the capital of the world.

Installed six years ago, the $55 million pedestrian plazas were one of Mayor Bloomberg’s many initiatives that in theory made the city easier, and safer, to navigate for residents and visitors.

While the spaces have cleared the infamous tourist area, making room for tables, lounge chairs, and food trucks, they’ve also given the city’s quirky–and sometimes irritating–characters more room to roam.

Mayor de Blasio is reacting to complaints that this abundance of street performers, from costumed cartoons to topless women, is causing more problems than the spaces are worth and has since announced a task force to consider how to limit these annoyances. They will report suggestions for improving the Times Square experience by October 1.

Many are speaking out against the proposal, arguing the benefits of the plazas far outweigh the negatives and that uprooting them would do little to solve the issue of performers asking for tips for their bizarre and strange acts.

Among those for keeping the plazas, common arguments include:

1. The plazas are credited with increasing traffic safety and reducing pedestrian injuries in the most hectic part of the city.

2. Removing the plazas would do little to stop the characters from still populating the sidewalks, and create an even more congested experience as a result of less space.

3. Times Square is one of the most famous of New York City sites and the pedestrian plazas make it a more welcoming and safe experience for visitors.

Of those against the plazas are motorists, or anyone who has tried to take a taxi in the area, that face greater traffic as a result.

Although the cartoons characters and naked women are an annoyance to any New Yorker who crosses Times Square on a daily basis, they are actually part of the experience for a visitor. As Pegi Vail, an anthropologist at New York University and filmmaker who has explored the relationship between tourism and sustainability explained earlier this year, society has a shared ideal of Times Square as perpetuated through media. Tourists want to be a part of that, the good and the bad.

Samantha Shankman is the COnsumer News Editor at Travel + Leisure.