BY SCOTT STIFFLER | Like the guest at a party who wouldn’t leave—and was never on the invite list—the scaffolding and shedding mandated by the city to shield passersby from debris during building construction has long been the bane of those it intends to protect.
“Ask New Yorkers what gets on their nerves, and a lot of them will say it’s the sidewalk scaffolding that seems to be on nearly every block,” wrote NYC Council Member Erik Bottcher, in a March 28 Enewsletter. “Over 280 miles of New York City’s sidewalks are covered by scaffolding!,” noted the Council Member, adding, “The proliferation of sidewalk sheds (the official term for scaffolding) in New York City is a classic example of a good idea that has gone unchecked for far too long… Manhattan alone has over 4,000 sidewalk sheds!”
Make that “over 4,000 minus one” as of last week. On Thursday, April 6 and Friday, April 7, a sidewalk shed in front of 205-207 Eighth Ave. (btw. W. 20th & 21st Sts.) was removed.
The action was long called for by locals who’ve been vocal about its role in creating a corridor notorious for everything from vagrancy to open air drug use and sales.
“My Office has been in constant contact with the owner and property manager of these buildings, as well as numerous residents who have been negatively impacted by this scaffolding,” said Bottcher, in an April 6 statement to Chelsea Community News. “What we have been told is that removal will take place on Thursday the 6th [of April] and Friday the 7th [which it did], and that workers will still be on site until the 26th, but that work will require no additional scaffolding or sheds. We are thrilled that this scaffolding, that has cast a shadow on Eighth Avenue for too long, is coming down.”
“At long last, a red-letter day in Chelsea,” said Save Chelsea President Pamela Wolff, adding, “The infamous sidewalk bridge is being dismantled as we watch. Let the sunshine in! Thanks to our Councilmember for staying on top of this eternal sore spot in our community.”
Located next to adult store Rainbow Station and right around the corner from the sidewalk shed and tunnel running parallel to elementary school PS11 (W. 21st St. btw. 8th & 9th Aves.), the shed at 205-207 Eighth Ave. has become a topic at nearly every 10th Precinct Community Council meeting. Those who follow the 10th Precinct on Twitter will note the frequency with which arrests are made under and near the Eighth Ave. sidewalk shed, often involving a recidivist whose release upon arrest sends them right back to the area. (That’s a whole other article, and a topic touched upon in past reporting; see the tail end of this article for links to past coverage of shed- and recidivism-related subject matter).
“The scaffolding has been a contributing factor to the deterioration of quality of life along the Eighth Avenue corridor,” said 10th Precinct Commanding Officer Captain Robert Gault, in an April 6 phone interview with Chelsea Community News. “What we find,” noted Gault, “is that [no matter the location], scaffolding creates cover for criminal activity—it almost serves as a Welcoming Station for disorderly conduct… My deployment strategy is to put out footposts [on-foot patrols by officers].” Gault noted that such a response is part of Precision Policing, which allows precinct commanders to deploy resources “in areas that are experiencing adverse crime conditions.”
In order to properly identify areas in need, Gault encouraged Chelsea residents to call 311. The obligatory document created by such interaction “gives us a sense of where quality of life conditions are occurring. We compile a list of chronic locations,” said Gault, “and are responsive to that.”
“I’ve been in government for over 14 years,” said Bottcher, in a phone interview with Chelsea Community News, “and this issue has been a constant throughout that time. In my prior role [as District 3 Council Member and Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s Chief of Staff], we would spend years trying to get a single piece of scaffolding down, just to see another one go up, right next door.”
As for the spate of corrective measures touted at the March 6 press conference, Bottcher noted, “There’s many different bills in this proposal that come at the problem from many different angles. For example, the use of drones for inspection, which will eliminate the need for scaffolding in many instances… My legislation would increase the amount of lumens per lot that need to be installed” underneath scaffolding, said the Council Member, acknowledging that many constituent complaints about sidewalk sheds involve the poor visual conditions they create at night. Intro 955 addresses that. “Lighting technology has changed dramatically since the previous requirements were written,” noted Botcher. “We are now in the world of LED light strips, which can light an area substantially better than bulbs and use up to 90% less energy.” This bill requires the level of illumination to be uniformly distributed along the entire length of the shed.
Bottcher is also introducing Intro 965, establishing a time limit of six months after scaffolding is erected for property owners to apply for work permits—and Intro 955 establishes heightened design standards for scaffolding obstructing public amenities, like parks and playgrounds.
As for the origin story of those initiatives: Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine and NYC Council Members (whose ranks included Bottcher) convened a March 6 press conference announcing a series of proposed actions meant to chip away at the often years-long shelf life of sidewalk sheds.
Calling the collection of actions to mitigate sidewalk shed woes “a plan to reign this in,” Levine noted, “In extreme cases, we want the city to go in and take the façade down and bill the landlord [for the work].” Calling this new package “a mix of carrots and sticks,” Levine noted, “First and foremost, we want the façade work done more quickly because that is what usually leaves these scaffolds up for so long.” To view that press conference in full, click here.
CHELSEA COMMUNITY NEWS, ON THE TOPIC OF SCAFFOLDING
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January 10, 2022: On West 14th Street, Scaffolding Heralds Haven for the Homeless
November 20, 2020: No Respite for West 30s Residents After Hundreds Housed in Hotels
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