Sidewalk sheds and scaffolding that surround buildings sometimes for years on end could finally be dismantled as part of a campaign Mayor Eric Adams unveiled on Monday to allow building owners to use less-invasive measures instead of scaffolding.

“They block the sunlight, keep pedestrians away from businesses and are a magnet for illegal activity,” the mayor said Monday in Chelsea of the “ugly green boxes” that are a fixture on city streets.

He said the sheds can also become a “safe haven for criminal behavior” and that the city’s own rules make it harder to take them down.

“If we’re honest about it, when we did an analysis, we realized that city rules are incentivizing property owners to leave sheds up and put off critical work,” Adams said. “Most sheds stay up for longer than a year, and some have darkened our streets for more than a decade.”

Construction workers lowering scaffolding materials Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

City data shows there are currently 9,000 permitted construction sheds, spanning nearly 400 miles of city’s streets, that have been up for an average of 500 days. . 

The sheds are required under the Department of Buildings’ facade and safety program, where any building higher than six stories has to inspect its exterior walls every five years.

If any structural issues are found, the owners are required to install a sidewalk shed to protect people from falling debris. 

More Colors Coming

Under Adams’ new plan, the Department of Buildings could end up inspecting buildings less frequently without jeopardizing pedestrian safety, officials said. 

“We’re going to take a really hard look at the inspection process, the Local Law 11 cycle,” Jimmy Oddo, the city’s building’s commissioner, said Monday.

“We drive the rest of the country, but that’s not to say every five years for every building of every age, of every material, is correct.”

The buildings department will also begin allowing building owners to use safety netting instead of sheds.

City agencies will now be required to look into using safety netting instead of sidewalk sheds during construction on some city-owned buildings.

The city’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services will try netting for the first time at the Supreme Court on Sutphin Boulevard in Queens, in place of  a sidewalk shed that was erected in April 2017, according to city records. 

The buildings department also plans to let building owners install art on sheds and to vary the color of those sheds, instead of requiring them to be hunter green

And they’ll seek new-look ideas for sidewalk sheds, something Michael Bloomberg did as mayor in 2010 when his administration allowed a design described as “an oversized umbrella” to remain compliant under Local Law 11.

That law sprung out of a law passed by the city after Barnard College student Grace Gold was killed by a piece of loose masonry in 1979.

Despite these rules, there are still deaths resulting from damaged building facades.

In December 2019, Erica Tishman, a 60-year-old architect, was killed after a piece of broken facade fell on her from a Midtown office building; the building owners later faced criminal charges. In 2015, 2-year-old Greta Greene was killed by a piece of falling brick from an Upper West Side building. 

More recently, in April, a panel of loose bricks tumbled from the Jackson Houses in The Bronx after inspectors had repeatedly found the building to be poorly maintained. No one was injured by the falling bricks.