Sidewalk sheds, or scaffolding, are so pervasive in New York City they almost become part of a neighborhood’s landscape. While used to protect people from falling debris, scaffolding continues to be an omnipresent eyesore that blocks sunlight and views, attracts crime and slows foot traffic. Now, thanks to a new map by the city’s Department of Buildings, residents can explore more than 7,700 sidewalk sheds, each labeled with a color-coded dot highlighting the reason for its construction, its age, and its size. As the New York Times covered, there are currently 280 miles of sidewalk scaffolding in front of 7,752 buildings in the city (way up from the 190 miles we covered just a little over a year ago), which is enough to encircle Manhattan nearly nine times.
The DOB created an online system to better track the increasing number of structures due to a development and construction boom. Last year, building inspectors checked every piece of scaffolding and ordered 150 to be dismantled, as the projects behind the structures were completed. The new map marks the reason for the standing scaffolding by color: red for unsafe buildings, light blue for repairs, dark blue for new construction and green for maintenance work. If clicked, each dot shows more information, like the date when a permit was first approved. The bigger the dot, the older the scaffolding. Permits for sidewalk sheds will be accepted online by the end of year.
While this new online system lets the department enforce measures and identify illegal structures, it’s hard to say whether it will help remove scaffolding any faster. Currently, no hard deadlines are set for owners to make repairs and take down scaffolding. Some structures that were intended to exist temporarily, have lingered for years with construction delays and unfinished renovations. City officials issue violations only if the work is incomplete.
Take the scaffolding at 277 First Street in Park Slope for example. For eleven years, it’s covered the front of a 15,000-square-foot, glass-and-concrete building that was supposed to feature a swimming pool and car elevator. Construction was never finished, leaving the scaffolding up since January 2006. The building was sold to 277 1st Street Ventures in November, which is turning it into a six-unit condo, with an expected completion date this summer.
After a Barnard College student was killed by a falling piece of terra cotta, the city council passed a law in 1980 that required scaffolding inspections, as well as regular inspection of building facades, for buildings taller than six stories every five years. However, in neighborhoods with blocks covered with scaffolding, like in Midtown Manhattan, critics say these crowded corridors encourage loitering and criminal activity.
City Councilman Ben Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side, has proposed legislation that would give building owners three months to repair a facade, with the possibility to extend it for three additional months, requiring the removal of scaffolding within six months or sooner if no construction is going on. The proposed legislation has the support of the New York State Restaurant Alliance and the New York City Hospitality Alliance. Kallos said the Buildings Department has not done enough to address the city’s scaffolding problem: “We already know how big a problem it is, and unless the city is willing to take steps to get the scaffolding down, it doesn’t matter.”
[Via NY Times]
- New bill could limit sidewalk scaffolding to six months or less
- NYC’s 190 Miles of Scaffolding a Result of ’80s Law and Billion Dollar Industry
- The Strange World of Scaffolding and Why We’ll Be Seeing More of It