7 On Your Side Investigates: New York City losing control of sidewalk shed spread

Wednesday, January 23, 2019
7 On Your Side Investigates: New York City losing control of sidewalk shed spread
Jim Hoffer reports on the increase of sidewalk sheds in New York City.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Since the collapse of a sidewalk shed in SoHo in November of 2017 nearly killed a young model, the construction of these sheds over New York City sidewalks has jumped more than 17 percent.

At the time of the SoHo incident, there were 7,000 sidewalk sheds. Through the Department of Buildings, 7 On Your Side Investigates has confirmed there are now 8,197 sheds adding another 30 miles of scaffolding hanging over the heads of New Yorkers.

"It seems like you should never have to worry about those collapsing on you," former model Katherine Lefavre said in an exclusive interview earlier this year.

She was permanently disabled when tons of metal and steel collapsed on top of her.

"I just saw wood and metal flying at me," Lefavre said. "That's all I remember. And then I woke up in an ambulance."

Lefavre has been urging Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council to stop the spread of these structures, but instead, they keep multiplying.

There are now 330 miles of sheds that threaten to cover New York in steel and plywood, but they're not only spreading -- they continue to fall down.

MAP: Active sidewalk shed permits via Department of Buildings

Last March, cars were damaged when scaffolding collapsed on the Lower East Side. In April, people escaped injury when metal scaffolding rained down on their cars in Coney Island. And in May, a rickety sidewalk shed failed to protect a man from bricks falling from above.

Part of the problem, according to City Councilman Ben Kallos, is that the builders who put up the sheds also inspect them.

"If you put up scaffolding, all you have to do is certify that it's safe," he said. "I think that's a conflict of interest. I don't think that the company that is putting up the scaffolding should be able to say, 'Don't worry, we did a good job.'"

Kallos is introducing a bill Thursday that will replace self-certification by scaffolding companies with inspections by the Department of Buildings, at the cost to the building owner.

"When you have a half dozen scaffolds fall on people, that's a problem," Kallos said. "There is an easy solution. Make sure it gets inspected by somebody who isn't the person who put it up."+

Kallos believes charging building owners for inspections on a three-month cycle will push them to fix the facades on their buildings, allowing the scaffolding to come down.

A previous investigation found some sidewalk sheds that have been up for more than a decade.

But nothing underscores the spread and the seeming permanence of these sheds than one that's been hanging over the sidewalk at the city's buildings department. It's been there for more than eight years.

Buildings Department Spokesman Joe Soldevere says they share "the Council member's desire to reduce the number of sidewalk sheds around the city and look forward to reviewing this legislation."

The city can impose fines against building owners who delay repairing their crumbling facades for years, requiring the sidewalk sheds to stay up indefinitely. But often, the fines go unpaid and rarely enforced.

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