Skip to content

December 12, 2023

Report reviews proposals to clean up street facades while keeping pedestrians safe

To read “Sidewalk Shed Reform in New York City,” click here

New York, N.Y. – Today, Citizens Union issued a report on the state of sidewalk sheds in New York City, evaluating proposals to reform the scaffolding system in New York City. There are now 9,000 active sidewalk sheds in New York City, totalling 380 miles of wood and metal boxes. These structures –commonly known as scaffolding – are designed to offer temporary protection for pedestrians from falling debris. However, many of these sheds remain in place for years, damaging our urban landscape by obstructing sidewalks, covering landmarked buildings and attracting trash. Over time, many of the structures become safety risks themselves.

“Sidewalk sheds have become just as synonymous with New York City as the Empire State Building, the Flatiron Building and St. Patrick’s Cathedral,” said Betsy Gotbaum, Executive Director of Citizens Union. “Our city is home to some of the most beautiful architectural and engineering masterpieces in the world, but too many of them are covered up for years by ugly structures that inconvenience New Yorkers. We are proud to release this comprehensive report that examines how we can make our sidewalks cleaner and more livable, while keeping pedestrians safe.”

The report outlines how the regulatory system governing the construction of sidewalk sheds encourages noncompliance with city code. It also incentivizes building owners to maintain these structures for longer periods than they are legally allowed. Much of the problem stems from the City’s Façade Inspection & Safety Program, known as Local Law 11. Over half of all sheds built to comply with Local Law 11 to address unsafe façades are older than a year. At many of these locations it does not appear any active work to repair façades is ongoing. In comparison, only about a third of sheds built around construction projects are older than a year.

Over the past year, several elected officials have introduced proposals aimed at reducing the number of sheds across the five boroughs, the amount of time they stay up, and the level of obstruction they impose on our urban environment. Mayor Eric Adams, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, and a group of Council Members including Keith Powers and Shaun Abreu have all published plans on the issue.
The report reviews the various proposals and issues a series of recommendations, including:

  • Coordinate reform efforts under one leading point person – over twenty proposals have already been floated to address the issue of sidewalk sheds, and they require action from the Mayor’s Office, DOB, DCAS, LPC, Borough Presidents, the City Council, and the State Legislature. The Mayor should appoint one person to oversee these efforts, facilitate partnerships and coordination, and track implementation.
  • Publish a reform initiative tracker to monitor progress – The Mayor’s Office should develop and make public a reform initiatives tracker, which would provide an overview of the status of each initiative and a description of the progress made to date.
  • Study the direct impact of penalties on sidewalk sheds – More information is needed on the impact financial penalties have on the length of time sidewalk sheds are up. The DOB should provide an analysis of the effect the last increase in penalties for façade noncompliance had on the number of sheds in the city.
  • Dedicate particular efforts to NYCHA developments – NYCHA is one of the worst offenders of sidewalk sheds and façade compliance, but it rarely sees the same fines and penalties as other building owners. Despite being mostly under the Mayor’s control, Mayor Adams’ Get Sheds Down plan does not include reference to sidewalk sheds in NYCHA complexes. Any substantive sidewalk shed and scaffolding reform should address public housing.
  • Tailor solutions to historic districts – Data from the Landmark Preservation Commission and Department of Buildings suggests that sidewalk sheds are erected around almost 1,500 landmarked sites in the city, with half of these sheds over one year old. The Mayor’s plan should address landmarked buildings and historic districts by facilitating the permit process and assisting owners with the compliance and repair process.


About Citizens Union
For 125 years, Citizens Union has been a force for transparency, accountability and ethics in New York’s City and State governments. A nonpartisan organization, some of our current initiatives include a new agenda for police accountability, monitoring the City Council’s redistricting process and increasing civic engagement.


Back To Top