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Are the New Foot-Traffic Lanes in Times Square Helpful or Harmful?

In news that might signal a win for fast-moving New Yorkers, the city that’s home to Times Square has paved colored lanes within the headache-inducing Midtown tourist drag, separating street performers and their audiences from pedestrians who are in a hurry.

The highly trafficked commercial square has been a cornerstone of New York City’s international image and a topic of contempt for years now, with its bright lights, congested streets, costumed buskers attacking tourists and each other (read: anti-Semitic Elmo, abusive Spiderman), desnudas, and oblivious tourists swallowing up valuable sidewalk space. But Times Square’s new foot-traffic lanes might prove to be more of a cause celebre. The costumed performers say there’ll be too little space for all of them now, and some could be forced to leave their jobs.

To weigh the pros and cons of this controversial change, SmarterTravel’s Patricia Magaña and Shannon McMahon weigh in on their differing opinions:

Anti-Foot Traffic Lanes

PM: Don’t walk here! Don’t stand there! Windowshop here but not there!

I’m all for efficiency of space and instituting safety wherever masses congregate, but I have to argue that Times Square of all places is not that place. This is a destination and not a throughway. People come to this very endpoint to lollygag, to be instantly seduced by the overwhelming sights and sounds. Taking in the enormity of Times Square takes time.

Pretend it’s your first time at an iconic site you’ve seen your entire life in movies and pictures. It’s on your bucket list. Some sparkly something catches the eye, and you stop and stare—regardless of whether you’re on a sanctioned walking- or standing-only zone. This is what being a curious traveler is about—living that moment.

Has this change to Times Square sidewalks been thoroughly thought through? Let’s be conscious about whom this change impacts: tourists, a good portion of which are international, and many may not know or even spot the signage, especially with more luring advertisements distracting their attention. I pity the person whose job it will be to herd steer these pedestrians.

More and more, the United States is viewed as a totalitarian society. How low have we come to the point that we’ve sunk to telling our guests where and how to walk? Is this part of the scheme to “Make America great again”? Sigh, Orwell is rolling in his grave.

So, Times Square tourist, take in the magnificence of the giant screens and the Naked Cowboy at your pace and in whatever safe part of the sidewalk you want.

Manhattanites with places to be already know to avoid this and other hyper-traversed traps, and thus already know how to navigate around them. Those that do have to crisscross this melee are likely there because they’re employed in the vicinity, meaning they likely need those slow-going pedestrians to happily hang out for business’ sake.

Pro-Foot Traffic Lanes

SM: As someone who walks with a purpose whether I’m traveling or in my home city, I think this change is long overdue. New Yorkers have dealt with the toxic environment of Times Square for too long—walking through a public area shouldn’t subject you to pummeling crowds or costumed tip-mongering. A square as big and trafficked as this one being unregulated in terms of street performers (if that’s what we call serving as a photo-op to hordes of selfie-sticks in exchange for a fee) is a recipe for disaster. You’ve likely seen the headlines—fights and pickpocketing aren’t rare here, and many of the costumed characters bother tourists more than they serve them. Maybe it’s time some of them go.

It’s not abnormal for cities to require permits for performers to solicit tips in specific areas, and to name the areas where assembling is deemed safe or not disturbing to others. Boston’s Faneuil Hall and Las Vegas’ Fremont Street already do this, and all it means is that people walking through the space get the agency to decide whether or not they want to be a part of these activities. If mingling with costumed characters and taking in bright signage is your thing that’s fine, but there should be a designated public area for that to take place, out of the way of congested foot traffic. That’s the city’s prerogative.

That the locals already know to avoid these areas is beside the point—not being able to access the fastest public route to your destination because it’s constantly clogged with crowds of people is a problem that city officials should solve. New York City stepped up appropriately, and the madness that is Times Square will at least now be an organized mess.

Here’s what the new Times Square looks like:


You tell us: Should Times Square have been left alone? Comment below.

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