Across the city, sidewalk sheds and scaffolding spread like kudzu. They devour precious sidewalk space, cut off sunlight, create safety hazards and hurt businesses. There are now nearly 9,000 sheds entombing city streets, according to the Department of Buildings, up from about 3,500 in 2003. That's 190 miles worth of sheds, or 1 million linear feet—equal to the distance between Gansevoort Street in the West Village and the hamlet of Gansevoort in upstate Saratoga County.
The unprecedented demand is driven in part by the new wave of construction fueled by the city's robust economy. But there's another, more important reason: Thirty-six years ago, the city passed a law requiring regular inspections of older buildings to ensure concrete and bricks don't fall on pedestrians. And since then, the City Council has strengthened the law while adding new ones, giving rise to an industry that generates $1 billion a year—$200 million of that is for the street-level sheds, and the rest pays for the scaffolding and the workers who repair the façades.
Sheds themselves can be safety hazards. Last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio described sheds as "great for criminals as a place to hide" and "great for folks who want to throw their trash on top." On Jan. 8, his administration announced a "shed safety sweep" in which inspectors will examine sheds to ensure they're well-lit and code-compliant. In 2007, a New York police officer chasing a suspect slammed into a poorly lit shed at the corner of Riverside Drive and West 109th Street, and was injured. "I never saw the pole ... the light was--it was black, dark," the officer later testified. Small-business owners complain that sheds obscure signs and shop windows and drive potential clients across the street. Last month, the Upper West Side's Ocean Grill shut down after a shed and construction noise drove away customers, according to a lawsuit the owners filed against their landlord. BLT Fish in the Flatiron district called a shed outside its restaurant a "kiss of death" in a 2013 lawsuit against its landlord that was settled a few months ago.
Residents loathe sheds because some never go away.