Scaffolding in New York is such an everyday sight, some people may take it for granted. According to Numina, the city has more than 300 miles of scaffolding, also known as sidewalk sheds, shielding its sidewalks. While the intention is to protect pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles from falling debris during construction efforts, the structures often have unintended negative consequences.

In many cases, the structures do not just cover the sidewalks, they block them partially or completely. As a result, pedestrians must walk closer to or even in the roadways. Numina monitored one stretch of sidewalk with sensors for weeks during a demolition project and discovered that during the course of the project, people were 53.3% more likely to step off the sidewalk and walk in the road.

Situations became worse when delivery trucks parked along the side of the street beside the blocked sidewalk. Then, the road effectively became a one-lane street shared by two-way traffic, pedestrians and bicyclists. When this construction project came to an end, another one began on the same block just a few weeks later.

The City of New York Buildings Department states that property owners must remove sidewalk sheds immediately upon completion of a construction, remediation or demolition project. The sheds must meet certain parameters, such as a minimum width of 5 feet with “sufficient” room for foot traffic. The requirements include a note that even when it is not illegal to store materials on the deck of the shed, it is not advisable.

If a property owner is aware of an immediate safety threat, he or she may file an application for a permit and build the shed within 24 hours. If a shed must also block a portion of the street, the Department of Transportation must also issue a permit. The person on the application for the shed automatically assumes responsibility for shed maintenance, including conducting inspections and cordoning off areas where the public may be in danger.