There are over 300 miles of scaffolding in this city. Those damp, dimly-lit plywood tunnels installed alongside construction sites are meant to keep construction materials from falling on pedestrians below. But sidewalk sheds can also be dangerous. Earlier this month, construction workers in Williamsburg were injured when a sidewalk shed gave way beneath them. Last summer, scaffolding in Brooklyn Heights fell outside a Starbucks, injuring three people below. And in 2017, a young woman suffered major spinal damage when scaffolding collapsed on her in SoHo.
“That shouldn’t happen to anyone,” said Councilman Ben Kallos, the author of a new bill that would tighten safety standards for sidewalk sheds. Kallos's office has tallied seven sidewalk shed incidents since 2017, many of which resulted in pedestrians being injured. (The Department of Buildings puts the number of incidents at nine, but holds that six of these incidents were minor, such as a wooden board falling off the top of the shed.)
The way Kallos sees it, the problem is that the city lets contractors do their own inspections — with minimal oversight from the Department of Buildings.
“Those who put [the scaffolding] up get to certify that it's safe,” he said. “And when that happens, when you've got bad actors, that means you've lost the right to self-certify, and that's what this legislation [corrects].”
Kallos's bill would put safety inspections for sidewalk sheds under city control. The Department of Buildings would show up to inspect sidewalk sheds to verify they’re in safe condition and in compliance with city regulations. These checks would occur every six months after the initial inspection — and building owners would pay for them. Fees would start at $250 per inspection, but they’d go up incrementally, topping out at around $1,000. The longer the sidewalk shed is in place, the higher the fee.