NYC DOT Proposes Pedestrian Plaza Regulations

Public comments are being accepted through May 23, 2016.

On April 22, 2016, the New York City Department of Transportation (“DOT”) published and solicited public comments on proposed rules to regulate DOT’s 73 existing and planned pedestrian plazas in New York City. The New York City Council passed a bill authorizing DOT to promulgate regulations applicable to the pedestrian plazas on April 7, 2016, which was signed into law by Mayor de Blasio on April 21, 2016. Reporting on the new legislation has tended to focus on provisions in the new rules that allow DOT to limit the areas of pedestrian plazas in which street performers (including the costumed characters and “desnudas” of Times Square) and vendors may operate; however, the regulations are significantly broader than this and serve to formalize the pedestrian plaza program. To date, DOT has created pedestrian plazas on an ad hoc basis without any formalized regulation of the activities therein. This has generally meant that DOT-created pedestrian plazas continue to be regulated as streets rather than public spaces, an imperfect fit that the proposed regulations aim to ameliorate.

The proposed DOT rules do the following:

  • Create a uniform, streamlined process for proposing and applying for the pedestrian plaza program. Per Section 2 of the proposed rules, individuals and organizations may submit to DOT proposals advocating for the designation of an area as a pedestrian plaza. If DOT determines that a proposed plaza is viable, a potential “pedestrian plaza partner” organization can submit an application for such plaza. The documentation required to be submitted with the application is specified in the proposed regulations; however, it is important to note that the applicant must be (1) “an organization operating within the City that wants to become a pedestrian plaza partner” (i.e., be willing and able to take on maintenance responsibility with respect to the plaza) and (2) “incorporated in New York State and must have a mission that serves or relates to the geographical area of the proposed pedestrian plaza.”
  • Set forth criteria pursuant to which DOT is to review pedestrian plaza applications, including the open space needs of an area, community initiative, site context, organizational and maintenance capacity of the applicant/pedestrian plaza partner and income eligibility (low- and moderate-income neighborhoods are to be prioritized).

  • Regulate uses and activities in pedestrian plazas that are consistent with the pedestrian plazas’ designation as public space. Vehicular traffic is prohibited; activities such as events, filming, parades and others that are generally required to be permitted in public spaces are explicitly required to be permitted pursuant to the rules; littering, smoking and a variety of other activities are prohibited or regulated, including the posting of notices and signs.

    • While many of the items covered in the General Uses, Prohibited Uses and Regulated Uses are fairly routine, Section (2)(c)(2) of the proposed rules states that “[n]o person shall use a Pedestrian Flow Zone for any purpose other than the safe and continuous movement of pedestrian traffic.” This is effectively half of the language that “corrals” costumed characters into designated areas of Times Square: any areas that are designated “Pedestrian Flow Zones” may not be used for the types of commercial, solicitation, performance or expression activities generally engaged in by the performers in Times Square.

  • Allow DOT to create additional rules for specific pedestrian plazas. At this time, DOT is proposing only to codify specific rules for the pedestrian plaza space in Times Square. In particular, the rules allow DOT to designate Pedestrian Flow Zones (described above) and Designated Activity Zones, which are marked areas within which individuals may engage in “commercial activity, solicitation entertainment and performance by individuals or groups, posing for photographs or videos where any form of compensation, donation, or tip is requested or accepted, and expressive matter vending.” The objective of these two types of designated areas is to permit commercial and expressive activities only in certain areas while allowing pedestrian traffic to flow unimpeded in other areas. While Times Square is the only pedestrian plaza currently proposed to be subject to rules on Designated Activity Zones, DOT may choose to replicate these rules, or promulgate new rules, for other pedestrian plazas in the future.

DOT will be holding a public hearing on the proposed rules on May 23, 2016 and is accepting comments until that day. For any questions regarding the proposed DOT rules, please be in touch.