In late July, NYC Mayor Eric Adams and DOB Commissioner Jimmy Oddo announced the City’s new “Get Sheds Down” plan to remove the sidewalk sheds, also known as sidewalk bridges, from City streets throughout the boroughs and to redesign those that need to temporarily remain in place.
The plan, roundly applauded at a press conference well-attended by City officials, aims to improve the quality of life for New Yorkers by shortening the lifespan of the pipe and plywood structures and replace them with more visually appealing, less intrusive alternatives. Not only are the sheds eyesores, but they can shield illegal activity, impede small business commerce, obscure streetlights, and create pedestrian congestion.
Approximately 9000 active, permitted construction sheds – estimated to be 4000 in Manhattan alone - with an average age of nearly 500 days, span more than 2 million linear feet, or nearly 400 miles, and occupy about 3 percent of the City’s sidewalk space. “Get Sheds Down” intends to incentivize property owners to expedite façade repairs.
The media has followed this story over the years as previous mayors, including Adams’ predecessor Bill DeBlasio, also pledged that sheds will come down though with few results. WNBC-TV noted in March of this year that the oldest NYC shed dates back 17 years to 2006. This overhaul, however, has teeth to it: steep financial penalties.
Said Adams, “This is how we reimagine our city, revitalize our business districts, and build a safer, more welcoming city for all.”
Oddo stressed that in no way would pedestrian safety be compromised. “Sidewalk sheds are an important public safety tool to protect New Yorkers from hazardous conditions, but they are no substitute for proper building maintenance. This comprehensive plan will compel building owners to make needed repairs so sheds can be removed more quickly — improving public safety while also transforming how we think about pedestrian protection in our city.”
“The reforms the mayor is pursuing are an exciting step towards ensuring that sheds are up only as long as they need to be to keep New Yorkers safe,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, a major proponent of the plan.
“Sidewalk sheds protect the public from hazards that can occur on aging buildings, but building code changes are needed to ensure much-needed façade restoration work is completed in a timely fashion so sheds can be removed,” said Veronika Sikorski, president, New York City Special Riggers Association.
“Get Sheds Down” includes nine concrete strategies to improve public space and safety:
Increased use of safety netting – On July 25, the DOB Building News Update outlined rules governing use of safety containment netting in detail. Furthermore, the Adams administration will lead by example. The DCAS (Department of Citywide Administrative Services) will pilot the use of netting to partially replace a preexisting shed in front of Queens County Supreme Court in Jamaica, NY. A City agency that owns a building or is sponsoring a construction project requiring pedestrian protection will be required to assess whether netting can be used. Only if netting is ruled out as a viable option will the agency be able to proceed with the implementation of a traditional shed.
Reimagining sidewalk sheds – The DOB Building News Update noted above put out an RFP to architecture and engineering firms seeking new designs and alternative means of pedestrian protection. The agency will select up to six new, alternative shed, netting, and carbon fiber wrap designs that are more attractive, still affordable, and protective. The deadline to submit was October 5, 2023. Designs selected are slated to be incorporated into the City’s Construction Codes by the end of 2024.
Redesigning existing sheds - Immediate, interim changes include increasing lighting, allowing art to be installed on shed panels, and unlocking color choices beyond the currently uniform, Construction Code mandated, hunter green.
Paying a Price - penalizing sheds in the public right of way - The Adams’ administration will partner with Levine for legislation to impose new financial penalties on sidewalk sheds in the public right of way that aren’t directly related to new construction of demolition projects. The timespan for sheds erected for these purposes has also been significantly decreased from a year to 90 days or about three months thereby requiring renewals four times a year.
Penalties will be assessed to account for phased compliance and allow for reduced monthly penalties as repair work progresses and sheds are partially removed. Penalties would be capped at $6,000 per month, and waived if property owners take action to remove the shed within an allotted time. One- and two-family homes, and buildings employing safety netting would be exempt.
Doubling down on penalties for sheds in central business districts - One central business district in each of four boroughs will be the initial target of enforcement (there are very few sheds in Staten Island): Midtown Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn, Long Island City in Queens, and the Grand Concourse in the Bronx.
Strengthening oversight on shed permits – The September 15 DOB Building News Update noted that the DOB will no longer waive Work Without a Permit civil penalties for expired permits – they must be properly renewed. In addition, all sheds, construction fences and related scaffolding installed from September 1 on must display DCLA approved artwork once installed for at least 90 days unless the owner opts out of the requirement on the PW1.
Targeting longstanding sidewalk sheds - The DOB will expand its Long Standing Shed program that scrutinizes sheds that have been up longer than five years to include sheds in place over three years, adding over 500 sheds to the universe and more than doubling the number of targeted properties. Sheds in this program receive all from regular site visits to enforcement inspectors to potential criminal court actions or litigation if repairs aren’t made in a timely manner.
Empowering small business owners who can’t afford to make repairs quickly - The Adams administration will partner with Borough President Levine to explore the creation of a low-interest loan program to provide financial support for property owners who lack the resources to complete necessary façade repair work.
This strategic approach spares smaller property owners from additional financial burdens and should speed façade work for owners with greater resources.
Re-evaluating LL11 inspections - The majority of sidewalk sheds were erected to comply with the DOB’s Façade Inspection and Safety Program (FISP). Under Local Law 11 of 1998, owners of properties higher than six stories —approximately 16,000 citywide — must have exterior walls inspected every five years and file a report designating buildings “safe,” “safe with a repair and maintenance program,” or “unsafe.” If a building is unsafe, the owner must immediately install pedestrian protection. Building owners can indefinitely delay needed building repairs and keep sheds up without penalties. Smaller buildings can renew shed permits indefinitely. Taller buildings subject to Local Law 11 can file for repeated extensions and avoid penalties. The result has been sidewalk sheds languishing for years.
Under “Get Sheds Down,” property owners could be assessed a $10,000 penalty when a shed is in place due to an unsafe façade and the property owner fails to meet any of three deadlines:
• Filing a repair application within three months,
• Obtaining required work permits within six months,
• Fully completing repairs within 24 months.
These would supplement existing monthly penalties issued by the DOB when owners fail to make progress on FISP requirements for façade repairs.
The DOB will conduct a study to determine whether New York City can employ less frequent and/or less onerous inspections without jeopardizing pedestrian safety.
The vision behind all is the creation of a more beautiful, welcoming, and inviting cityscape for residents and visitors to enjoy.🀰
At the August 24, DOB Build Safe|Live Safe Conference, DOB First Deputy Commissioner Constadino ‘Gus’ Sirakis, P.E., discussed Mayor Adams’ “Get Sheds Down” plan and added key construction details on the changes needed in his presentation: “2022 NYC Construction Code Sidewalk Shed Requirements and Pedestrian Protection Updates”:
• The new designs will be re-engineered to improve street level access and give all stakeholders a more “open” experience. Spacing of vertical supports or columns will be 10 ft. in lieu of the originally mandated 8 ft. This allows for structural changes altering the need for continuous horizontal cross bracing and even eliminating it in some cases.
• Cantilevered platforms are being used on certain projects allowing for unencumbered sidewalk usage while construction continues on façades above.
• Structural netting can be applied and secured to façades and architectural appurtenances to restrain any material defect or failure from falling. This method is seen as more temporary than the above two measures.
• Steel wire mesh can be substituted for plywood panels. This addresses the concerns with wind-related uplift and reduces, possibly eliminates, the ‘sail’ effect that solid parapet designs encounter during strong winds. Installing ‘outrigger’ parapet extensions are no longer permitted.
The DOB has mandated that an accurate count be made of all sidewalk sheds and that all contractors collecting rents or performing installing contracts complete a survey of their equipment. The results should be a serious mitigation effort creating a more effective approach to balance pedestrian safety and building façade maintenance. 🀰