MANHATTAN — Spend five minutes in New York and you will end up walking under some of the nearly 300 miles of scaffolding in the city. PIX 11 investigated how safe all of it is, and why it never seems to go away.
Last November, it was a blustery Sunday in SoHo when the scaffolding at Broadway and Prince collapsed. Neighbors rushed in to clear the sidewalk shed — the big box that is supposed to protect people — and debris off several people trapped below.
Fortunately, only one person was hospitalized that day.
A $50 million private lawsuit was filed against the building at 568 Broadway and the scaffolding company “Rock Group.”
“This could have injured a lot more people,” eyewitness Karina Diamandieva said. “If you imagine that in Times Square or something where thousands of people are every day, that could injure 50 people or probably kill somebody.”
The Department of Buildings is responsible for the permitting and regulating of scaffolding.
“Thankfully you don’t see sidewalk sheds falling down like that very often,” DOB Commissioner Rick Chandler said. “But when one does, we’re very concerned and troubled by that.”
Chandler said his team’s investigation found the SoHo collapse was sheer negligence.
The DOB will no longer let the engineer who planned the scaffolding and sidewalk shed do work in the city. Investigators also found out other scaffolding around the city by Rock Group had issues as well.
There are roughly 7,800 crumbling facades and construction projects legally requiring mandatory privately funded scaffolding during the work. Chandler insists his office works to make sure all of it is safe.
“We’re up to 1,700 people now in the DOB versus about 1,000 when I stated four years ago,” he said. “So we’ve really expanded to meet the demand in the construction industry.”
The staff includes dedicated scaffolding inspection teams, but it is still a huge task. With no legal limits, scaffolding can stay standing for more than ten years.
Some building owners just leave it up for years instead of doing costly facade repairs.
“The scaffolding is there to keep us safe from the building, but who’s going to keep us safe from the scaffolding,” City Councilmember Ben Kallos said.
Kallos has been trying to bring down lingering metal piping that cover sidewalks for years on end— calling it a quality of life and safety issue. He is currently proposing legislation in this latest legislative session that would mandate owners “get the work done within six months or the city will step in and do the work and make bad landlords pay.”
Some also argue a backlogged building and repair permitting process is to blame for the slow pace of work.
Chandler said he is working to solve that problem by beefing up the number of inspectors and plan examiners.
“The claim that we’re holding them up is not holding water anymore,” the commissioner said.
PIX11 will keep you posted about the state of the scaffolding legislation.
If you want to learn more about the scaffolding near or on your building, check out these recent reports by the city.