Legislation before the City Council would require sidewalk sheds to be dismantled within six months of being erected — or in seven days if no work is performed in that time. Photo: Douglas Feiden
“Scaffolding goes up but doesn’t go down — for months, years, even decades — while no work is happening.”
Council Member Ben Kallos
By Michael Garofalo
On the 13-mile-long island of Manhattan, roughly 123 miles of sidewalk are covered in scaffolding.
Nearly 3,900 sheds line the borough’s sidewalks, making the obtrusive structures a more ubiquitous feature of the Manhattan streetscape than the bus shelter, the Citi Bike station or even the blue mailbox.
Community Board 8 is home to 537 of those active sheds, which shadow over 15 miles of Upper East Side sidewalks.
It’s not just the quantity of sidewalk sheds that has prompted efforts at reform — it’s how long they stay up. Sidewalk scaffolding, long required under New York City law as a safety measure to protect pedestrians walking near buildings undergoing construction or with facades deemed unsafe, is often temporary in name only.
Scaffolding at eight buildings in Community Board 8 were originally permitted more than five years ago, including a shed on Second Avenue near 96th Street that dates to 2009.
The average shed in the district has stood for 240 days, less than the Manhattan average of 270 days.
While city law dictates when scaffolding must be erected, there are currently no regulations requiring sheds to be dismantled if no work is being done on the building. Legislation sponsored by Upper East Side Council Member Ben Kallos would change that.
The bill, first introduced by Kallos in 2016, would require all sheds erected due to dangerous building conditions to come down within six months — or sooner, if work is interrupted for more than seven consecutive days. If a building owner fails to complete the necessary repairs and remove scaffolding within that time frame, the legislation calls for the city to step in to complete the work, take down the scaffolding, and bill the landlord for all costs.
“Scaffolding goes up but doesn’t go down — for months, years, even decades — while no work is happening,” Kallos said in January when he reintroduced the bill for the current session. Real estate groups oppose the proposed reform on the grounds that it would unfairly burden building owners.