An effort to tackle the city’s 280 miles of sidewalk sheds

The borough president has just released a report intended to find solutions to the city’s endless miles of sidewalk sheds, 230 of which have been up for more than five years. BP Mark Levine has done the math: 280 miles of sheds, 4000 sheds in Manhattan alone. He added that the average time is 240 days, but that’s a shocker to me — it’s too low! See exhibit A below, 71 Franklin, where the shed has been up since 2017. Or PS 234! where the shed has been up since 2018. That photo below of 172 Duane is from 2014.

Even 90 West Broadway, a well managed and well funded building, had to have its shed up for a couple years thanks to Local Law 11.

Levine has five strategies that aim to make the process quicker and less burdensome:

  1. Help buildings with low-interest loans and with expertise and guidance on facade repairs
  2. Expedite façade permitting processes at Landmark Preservation Commission by expanding the staff available and dedicating a unit specifically to Local Law 11 compliance
  3. Hold buildings accountable for keeping sheds up too long
  4. Update Local Law 11 inspection regulations (ie, allow drones to do inspections) and reform design standards, so sheds can serve tenants and neighbors better
  5. Extend Local Law 11 cycles to seven years for buildings that complete major façade renovations, so they are incentivized to get major repairs done in one shot

It’s number 3 on the list that I think has the most potential:

  • Create a task force to identify why city-owned property is among the worst offenders of long-term scaffolding deployment (PS 234 should be their first case study)
  • Increase fines and civil penalties on buildings who fail to quickly complete work (the DOB increased fines recently, but clearly they need to be higher)
  • Exercise emergency powers to perform work on buildings that fail to correct unsafe conditions
  • Create a program to assist tenants who suffer from long-term scaffolding deployment

If anyone needs more evidence of the plague of sidewalk sheds around the neighborhood, take the one at 86 Warren, the future Warren Street Hotel. While that project is not stalled out indefinitely, and construction is on schedule there, the shed is still causing trouble and neighbors from both sides have written several times. “The scaffolding and the shelter of the protruding wall of the construction site make for what feels like a very protected private dark space for people to pee, smoke, vape, and shoot up,” said one neighbor.

Neighbors there have found hypodermic needles in its shadows on five occasions, and most recently someone lit a bunch of newspapers on fire while hanging out under there — another neighbor had to run out and put it out with water. The developer told me that the sidewalk shed has CCTV cameras and they are going to add a CCTV monitor in the security office on the site, so they can call the NYPD immediately.

Folks have reported some similar activities to me under the PS 234 shed, and of course, the kids themselves had to put up posters asking people to curb their dogs under there, which is pitiful.

One bad actor in Tribeca at 71 Franklin is emblematic of the problem, wrote T., when we were discussing this issue on email.

“The reeking, rotting perma-scaffold represent a bigger hazard than the old facade the owner has literally done Zero work on. We just let building owners leave these up forever with no penalties? Think how much the city could raise if taxed the 300+ miles of scaffolds in NYC that overstay their welcome. Start at $100 per foot per month over the expected permit date (and then up to $1000 after 1 year delay). By my calculation, we could house all of the homeless with the money.”

I like that math…



  1. This! Sidewalk sheds are a huge quality of life issue and major blight. No other city allows this kind of madness to go on.

    Local Law 11 really needs to be changed to something like a 20 year interval. If facades need to be inspected every 5 years because we worry they could crumble onto pedestrians below then somebody is NOT doing their job. Either the inspector, repair worker, or building code is failing severely.

    It is obvious that it’s a racket between sidewalk shed companies, architectural engineers, contractors, and politicians contempt to accept their political donations.

    Also, this should be a question that the Tribeca Citizen asks of every political candidate. I know I will not vote for any local politician that does not have a reasonable response to sidewalk shed/local law 11 reform.

    • Could not agree more. I have lived on Duane Street since 1980 and the street has never looked as disgusting. So many neighbors volunteer to keep Duane Park trash free and and a beautiful respite. Across the street in all directions are shacks and ugly orange barricades which serve as graffiti canvases. The shack directly across from the park is not even in use. Rats love it…hardware cloth that is suppose to keep them away becomes hideous with trapped trash crud that cannot even be blown away with a leaf blower. The beautiful architecture is hidden by these uncared for shacks that serve only the purpose of being places that trash is thrown and ugly eyesores.

  2. This is a welcome step in the right direction. As FiDiGuy pointed out, no other city looks like this – including those (London, Paris) with buildings much, much older than NYC.

  3. Using data from the average age of 4,136 active sheds in Manhattan is 529 days and the median is 353 days. That said, some of the sheds may be down and the permits have not yet been closed out.

  4. 224 sheds in CB1. These sheds are a mix of facade repairs and new construction.

    average age 643 days and median age 408 days
    average linear footage is 246 feet, and the median is 160 feet.

  5. 253 Broadway the DCAS building has had scaffolding surrounding it for over 20 years; one brief period of removal not lasting more than a few months.
    Sidewalks are filthy because rain doesn’t hit the pavement to naturally wash clean the dog poo smears and bird poo that accumulates.

    • As a resident in proximity of 253 Broadway, in my 20 years living here, I remember a brief elation when it came down maybe 10 years ago? It went right back up. The eyesore remains a fixture that wraps around and wreaks havoc for three different blocks. Filth and safety issues directly facing City Hall. Take down the shed !

  6. Excellent article, and a much-needed initiative by Levine. Hopefully this will result in Local Law 11 reform. In addition to the many negatives you mention, there is also the very real risk of physical injury by falling pieces of scaffolding – which has happened several times in the area. Please do let your readers know if there’s any direct ways to voice support of reform.

    • I am in complete agreement. Any direction as to how we could be helpful moving to his forward, I am in.

    • Yes! Please, let me know how to get involved in this. I live in Upper East, and it is a big problem here as well. As an orthopedic surgeon who reviews New York State Workers Compensation cases, I am frequently astounded at the numbers and severity of construction laborer injuries that I see, that relate directly to scaffolding.This certainly adds to the overall cost that this ludicrous initiative produces. Local Law 11 MUST go!!

  7. you guys are forgetting about the corner of Greenwich & Duane. New businesses were promised it would be removed. Its up for years.

  8. Have been through a couple of Local 11 cycles with our building now, and don’t understand what incentive there is for buildings to permanently leave scaffolding up? Yes – Perhaps there is a hesitancy to spend money to fix the work, some of the costs of local 11 facade are quite exorbitant in NYC. However at the same time, the cost to maintain scaffolding is very expensive as well. Which could explain why more violators are government owned buildings – i.e. other people’s money. I shudder to think that individuals working for the city may be ahem financially incentivized to keep paying for scaffolding rather than address the work itself? That may be very real. Yes Local 11 is a pain – and it’s expensive as well – but it can be done quickly with a good team – get on with it.

  9. …and while we’re at it can we bring some sanity to the sheds that double as outdoor dining for restaurants?

    • Agreed. I repeat my earlier suggestion for a solution: Get rid of the sheds, widen sidewalks instead, and add the outdoor seating areas adjacent to the restaurants, with or without retractable awnings. That is, European-style cafe seating. This also allows streets to be properly cleaned, since the sheds surely interfere with the street cleaning vehicles. Finally, sheds on the street interfere with maintenance to the street: what happens when the city has to re-pave the street, or access pipes etc. under the shed?

      This gets rid of the eyesore of the sheds, does not reduce or interfere with pedestrian areas, but still adds the benefits to restaurants and to outdoor street life.

      Sidewalks in the city were once much wider. I think it’s time to return to that design plan.

      • I agree! Those who argue that the sheds add to the quality of life in the city are obviously turning a blind eye to the vast majority of them that are true eyesores, garbage dumps and rat heavens.

        On the other hand I am all for sidewalk cafes. But note that these are allowed only after strict rules are agreed upon by the restaurant and a city agency: number of tables, area covered, hours open, etc.

        The eating sheds in the street are in fact private enterprises on city land. They must go!

  10. Literally three years ago I went into PS-234 to complain to the building superintendent, the principal of the school and anyone else who would listen because the “shed” that covered the sidewalk on the school’s Warren St. side – which had been up for over two years already at that point – had never shown any sign of human activity in all the years that it was in place.
    The answers I got were non-committal to say the least; it wasn’t up to the school to do anything, talk to the Dept of Education. I did but that was, por supuesto, a dead end as well.
    A few months ago, workers began to take down the shed on Warren, only to replace it with a new one that now stretches around the front of 234 as well. There’s still no-one working on it however! Is this eyesore an art installation that we’re not aware of? Does the staff and students have a problem with half of the school permanently on the dark side of the moon for the past five years? My son went to 234 many years ago. It was the bright star in public education Downtown for years; to have it look like a shuttered storefront is a shame that no-one in power seems to be concerned about at all.

  11. My main point, as FiDiGuy points out: the frequency demanded by the law is unnecessary. The spirit of the law is sound, but years have passed since it was implemented and any potentially hazardous facade issues must have been resolved by now. Our recent compliance only found minor issues such that the lion’s share of the cost ended up being soft costs like sidewalk shed, engineering and legal. I’d push it out to every 10-20 years. We must be vigilant and get this law amended.

    • Is the law that onerous. A normal condo loft building like mine does the work every five years and has the scaffolding up for two weeks max. It’s not the law, it’s the lousy landlords.

    • You could do a real analysis of conditions segmenting buildings by age, height within the 7+ stories group, materials (eg terra cotta), etc. Buildings shown more susceptible to significant wear should be inspected more frequently than others. That said, freeze thaw cycles, aging mortar, etc. mean that inspections just cannot be terminated.

  12. Instead of sidewalk sheds, we could just require signs that say: “Caution: Work Overhead. Beware Falling Objects.”

    Am I dreaming or was this once the way it was done? At least I thought I’ve seen such signs in other cities.

  13. I live between two perennial scaffolding at 47 Walker Street and 401 Broadway, both have been up for years. 47 has gained new notoriety among gallery tourists for its unusual appearance of last stage deterioration and seemingly imminent demise while no attempt for repair or renovation has ever taken place all these years. The wrap around scaffolding at 401 Broadway has created a pee tunnel on Walker and shelter for illegal counterfeit goods vendors on Broadway since the pandemic, making quality of life in the neighborhood eternal hell. In this case no work visible until years later.
    I think building owners should be required to keep the streets under the scaffolding clean since rain can’t reach them. The lack of accountability in this city is truly astounding.

    • “Pee tunnel” is right…and worse. Not to mention the constant graffiti-fest that is the Walker side of 401 Broadway. It just looks (and smells) horrible. Why don’t they do the bare minimum to keep the building maintained?

    • Sorry it is 49 Walker. And they have put up double amount of scaffolding since yesterday, maybe something is finally happening!?

  14. I live opposite the Cass Gilbert building on Broadway and Chambers. Scaffolding went up in 2020 and I haven’t once seen work on the building.
    A historic facade covered in ugly nets. What’s going on?!!

  15. Are there any formal petitions to push LL11 reform?

  16. There is legislation for a pilot program to use drones to expedite building facade inspections with the City Council, Committee on Housing and Buildings. There is only one District representative in Manhattan, District 14. I think the committee is appointed by the Speaker, Adrienne Adams. I emailed her and District 14 rep, Pierrina Ana Sanchez for the status of the program and inclusion of additional Manhattan Districts. Here is a link to the legislation: (you may have to copy and paste).