Brooklyn Heights

DUMBO residents are sick of smelly, noisy ice cream trucks

Soft serve — with a touch of diesel.

October 18, 2019 Mary Frost
Over this past summer, a record number of diesel-powered ice cream trucks have jammed the streets of the DUMBO and the Fulton Ferry historic districts, and residents are sick of the noise and fumes. Shown: Rival ice cream trucks roam the streets of DUMBO looking for a place to park. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

DUMBO residents say they have had it with the noisy, fume-spewing ice cream trucks clogging their streets and sidewalks.

This past summer, platoons of idling trucks jammed the cobblestone streets and sidewalks of the DUMBO and Fulton Ferry historic districts. They stayed for 10 hours or more every day, according to neighbors, with diesel motors running to keep the ice cream cold.

Despite complaints to 311 and police, the trucks kept returning to the same locations, often parking illegally on crosswalks and sidewalks. Complaints to 311 about vehicle fumes and noise from engines idling in DUMBO have tripled in 2019 compared to this time last year.

Ice cream truck and food cart issues “have plagued Fulton Ferry and DUMBO all spring and summer,” Bill Stein, a board member of the Fulton Ferry Landing Association, told the Brooklyn Eagle.

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Stein said that if police do expel the trucks ensconced on Old Fulton Street, they just circle the block a few times and then go right back to where they were originally.

“I myself have filed 26 complaints via 311,” he said. “Enforcement has been stepped up, especially by the [neighborhood coordination officers], but the drivers wave a stack of tickets in our faces and laugh.”

With the influx of photo-snapping tourists and hundreds of thousands of visitors weekly to Brooklyn Bridge Park, the streets of DUMBO and Fulton Ferry take on a circus-like atmosphere during weekends.

Meryl Cooper, who has lived in DUMBO since 2007, said the ice cream trucks just add to the chaos.


“It came to a head this summer,” she said. “We’re struggling with traffic and safety issues, noise and pollution … It’s really, really hard to cross the street with the Ubers, buses and tourists. For ice cream trucks to park in the crosswalk is unacceptable … It’s really lawless.”

Doreen Gallo, president of the preservation-focused DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance, is calling for renewed enforcement of vendor violations. “DUMBO desperately needs enforcement of the rules that apply to street vendor licenses that would apply to vendor violations all over DUMBO,” she told the Eagle. 

Neighborhood resident Tara Quinn called the situation “a catastrophe waiting to happen.”

Competing ice cream trucks on Old Fulton Street in the Fulton Ferry Historic District. Photo courtesy of Bill Stein
Competing ice cream trucks on Old Fulton Street in the Fulton Ferry Historic District. Photo courtesy of Bill Stein

The Rules of the City of New York prohibit vendors from parking in metered spaces for business purposes, from standing where parking is not allowed, within 10 feet of a crosswalk, within 500 feet of a public market, within 200 feet of a school — or in front of any premises if the owner objects.

These trucks break all of the rules, residents say. Some of the brands involved are Carvel, Mr. Softee and Brooklyn Ice Cream (unrelated to the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory).

In September, DUMBO resident Martie LaBare wrote a letter of complaint to Carvel, complaining, “The non-stop generator fumes, noise, and vibrations in our homes are intolerable.”

LaBare said Carvel trucks double park and block traffic near Fulton Ferry Landing, vending illegally from metered spots for about 12 hours daily.

“We know this problem can be appropriately low among competing priorities for police time and attention. But with noise/air/vibrations pollution starting 11 a.m. or noon, continuous to 10 or 11 at night, permeating our apartments, we must keep contacting them,” she wrote.

Kristen Hartman, president of Carvel Ice Cream, responded to the letter, LaBare said. Though the trucks are operated by individual franchises, Hartman told LaBare the company is trying to work with the neighborhood on the issue.

The problem is, neighbors say, as soon as a Carvel truck pulls out, a Mr. Softee or a Brooklyn Ice Cream truck pulls in.

Mallory Kasdan, co-founder of the 650-member DUMBO Action Committee, told the Eagle that — in a neighborhood that has been much transformed in recent years — vendors are just a small but annoying piece of the problem. “The trucks are noisy and they park in the streets in front of fire hydrants. The police are overworked — it’s very busy in DUMBO,” she told the Eagle.

The group has been meeting with elected official and officers from the 84th Precinct frequently to help solve the multiple problems.

Residents of Cadman Plaza West in northern Brooklyn Heights have also been complaining for years about an ice cream truck parked near the A train station. Another ice cream truck sometimes parks on Middagh Street illegally, they say, often blocking Access-A-Ride pickups.

Roberto Gautier, who lives on Cadman Plaza West, has been sounding the alarm about the pollution being spread by the diesel truck on Cadman and others parked nearby for years. Gautier points out that parts of London have banned the diesel trucks, and hopes he can push the city to do likewise here.

Meanwhile, he is arranging a study to measure the pollution levels from the truck on Cadman and one that parks near P.S. 8 on Hicks Street.

An ice cream truck has been plaguing residents of 140 Cadman Plaza West in Brooklyn Heights for years. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
An ice cream truck has been plaguing residents of 140 Cadman Plaza West in Brooklyn Heights for years. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Other residents of Cadman Plaza West say they can’t sit out on their balconies in the summer because of the fumes from the truck.

“When they first set up camp, about five years ago, I submitted a complaint on a daily basis, whenever I was at home. This equates to dozens of complaints over the first two years; none of which resulted in any action being taken,” Heights resident John McDevitt told the Eagle.

Det. John Condon, a neighborhood commanding officer with the 84th Precinct, told the Eagle on Wednesday that the police are taking the complaints seriously.

“We have issued summonses, performed joint operations with NYC Department of Health, DSNY, and Department of Environmental Protection,” he said. “I believe we had some success at Water Street and Old Fulton Street, and are working on DUMBO.”

Update (5 p.m.): This story has been updated with a quote from Mallory Kasdan of the DUMBO Action Committee.


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4 Comments

  1. Roberto Gautier

    To move the discussion up a notch, I suggest looking into the minefield which ice cream trucks and all food trucks vend in within NYC. The fact is that it is impossible to find a legal spot to sell anything from a food truck in NYC! Vendors are forced to park in bus stops, at hydrants, at meters, in crosswalks – each is served with fines.
    https://www.6sqft.com/the-state-of-food-trucks-why-owners-are-fed-up-with-outdated-regulations/
    NYC needs to establish enforceable sanitary guidelines for mobile food vendors. Where do you think the ice cream vendor goes to the bathroom? Of course, having kids buy ice cream sold from trucks sitting in toxic diesel clouds is obviously not right. Diesel generators pump soft serve along with the accompanying fumes for customers. In a greener future, if
    soft servers used electrically-powered food trucks, they would be quiet and non-polluting.
    Sane rules for operating would take Mr. Softee et al. out of the renegade category.

  2. No one is forcing vendors to park anywhere…not in bus stops, in front of fire hydrants or in cross walks. When they do so, they are simply saying they are above the law.You should be more concerned about the brick and mortar businesses that are being impacted by these vendors that have little overhead and are a nuisance to locals. You’d have some resemblance of an argument if we didn’t live in NYC where there are tens of thousands of alternatives to grab a bite.

  3. Nikolai Vanzetti

    I mean, honestly, we could just ban cars and trucks from most of DUMBO like we do in Time Square and Wall Street. Its insane that we still allow cars on Water street, the most photographed spot in Brooklyn.
    I would really love to see some sort of electrification program in the city more generally. It would be great if vendors could just plug in to street lamps or something.

  4. mlcraryville

    If only Boro Hall, meaning BP Adams was to pull up his socks and take a serious look at this unnecessary damage to our health and quality of life, it could be brought to an end. Yes, electrically cooled trucks coupled with a limit on parking by diesel emitting trucks could do it. BP Adams need only step outside Boro Hall and check out the Carvel parked on the corner of Montage and Court St. 10 feet from the subway entrance, or the noisy popcord truck by Starbucks at Joralemon St. Hooray for May Frost. Plaudits to the Eagle, on to the News, the Post and the NYTimes.