New York, NY – Nearly 9,000 scaffolds that entomb 190 miles of City sidewalks may soon be dismantled, under legislation introduced by Council Member Ben Kallos. Unnecessary scaffolding also known as “sidewalk sheds” would have to be removed if seven days pass without construction work.
Sidewalk sheds are temporary structures, made of wooden planks, boards and metal pipes to protect pedestrians from dangerous conditions that are being corrected or new construction. Scaffolding is not only an eyesore but attract crime such as drug deals and provide an alternative to shelter for homeless. Many sidewalk sheds persist for years, sometimes more than a decade. There are several sidewalk sheds in Council District 5 represented by Kallos that have been up for years, over two years at 340 East 64th Street and 301 East 95th Street and over three years at 349 East 74th Street. Often times, it is much more expensive to fix a dangerous condition than to leave a sidewalk shed up indefinitely
Kallos’ legislation would set the following timeline for sidewalk sheds in place for dangerous conditions:
- 90 days for building owners to fix a dangerous condition,
- 90 additional for building owners days to fix the dangerous condition upon extension,
- After 180 days, the city would do the work to correct the dangerous condition and bill the owner for all costs.
- Work could not be interrupted for more than 7 days without a mandate to take down the sidewalk shed or face heavy penalties.
Under the same legislation, new construction would need to continue without more than 7 days of interruption until the new development is safely capped off or completed. Exemptions in the legislation provide for weather, stop work orders, time awaiting permit renewals or in cases of safety risks.
“Sidewalk sheds are like the once welcomed house guest that never leaves. While we need them for safety during construction, that construction must happen immediately, and then it is time for that sidewalk shed to come down,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “It’s time to change the city landscape by removing the swarm of sidewalk sheds that blight our neighborhoods. This legislation is good for businesses, tenants, pedestrians and will improve quality of life for the City.”
"It is essential that the City take action to address this blight that can be found in every neighborhood. Languishing sidewalk sheds attract trash, rodents, and illicit activities,” said Assembly Member Robert J. Rodriguez. “Last year in the Assembly, I passed a bill to reduce scaffolding at NYCHA developments, and have introduced legislation to address sidewalk shed reduction citywide. I commend Councilman Kallos for taking on this issue and I will work with him to support efforts to remove sidewalk shedding that has outlasted its purpose and use."
In the 1980s, the City passed a law designed to protect pedestrians from falling bricks and building facades. The law, and subsequent amendments, requires regular inspection of certain buildings and if a building is found to pose a safety risk and needs exterior construction work, scaffolding is required. Unfortunately, there is no law requiring the scaffolding to come down if no work is being done or the work has ceased. This legislation would force the removal of the scaffolding unless doing so will pose a credible safety risk to the public.
The proliferation of scaffolding is exacerbated by continuous construction, which is only set to accelerate following several planned upzonings of neighborhoods around the City. Complaints related to scaffolding can be made via 311 to the Department of Buildings, which can issue fines. However, building owners often choose to pay the fines and keep the scaffolding in place as a cheaper alternative to dismantling the scaffolding before any work has commenced as the cost of reinstalling it often runs into the tens of thousands of dollars.
In the summer of 2015, the Mayor’s Administration removed eight miles of scaffolding from New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) properties where no active work was happening. Months later, the Governor signed a bill by Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez requiring NYCHA to remove any remaining dormant scaffolding on its sites. Kallos’ bill would apply a similar requirement on private building owners.