Here at Untapped Cities, we’re big fans of maps — from ones that document every street tree across all five boroughs to ones that record dog poop complaints. The latest addition to our growing database of fun (and not-so fun) maps is a new, interactive tool developed by the Buildings Department that tracks an ever-present fixture in New York City: scaffolding, also known as sidewalk sheds.

Image via Department of Buildings

Over the years, more than 7,700 rigs have been installed — adding up to approximately 280 miles of scaffolding, including the 11-year-old wood-and-steel frame that covers the front of a brownstone-line block in Park Slope, Brooklyn. According to records from the Building Department, that’s currently the oldest scaffolding in New York.

With beams and rigs installed across the city, sidewalks can essentially turn into obstacle courses, leading some to question: what’s with all the scaffolding in first place? 

The overwhelming presence of sidewalk sheds can be attributed to a New York City ordinance, known as “Local Law 11,” which requires the exterior walls and appurtenances of all buildings over six stories to undergo a periodic inspection by a licensed structural engineer or architect; the inspection must be carried out at least once every five years — and it’s become “so onerous” that scaffolds are sometimes left up in between checkups.

Local Law 11 was enacted in 1998, the successor to Local Law 10, which was passed in 1980 after Grace Gold, then a Barnard College student, was struck and killed by a piece of terra cotta that fell from an apartment house on the Upper West Side.

Image via Department of Buildings

According to The New York Times, many sidewalk sheds have been up for years and they’ve become an eye blight for residents who complain that they block light and views. In an attempt to address the issue, the Department of Buildings’ newly released map keeps track of every scaffolded building in the city; it’s color coded, providing information on when and why a rig was installed in a specific location.

The DOB has since ordered 150 scaffolds to be dismantled, but New Yorkers are urging for legislation that will penalize building owners who avoid making repairs by keeping sidewalk sheds up for extended amounts of time. City Councilman Ben Kallos, speaking with The New York Times, has proposed a bill that would require such repairs to be made within three months of installing a scaffold (with the possibility of a three month extension). Of course, this proposal has been met with both support and contention.

Next, check out Can Scaffolding Be Beautiful? A NYC Photo Series by Anderson Moran and see more maps here.