By Daniel Krieger
New York City has some confusing parking rules, but it’s pretty clear you can’t ever park in front of fire hydrants, in crosswalks or in bike lanes. Yet ice cream trucks brazenly do that on a daily basis on the Upper West Side, and they seem to get away with it – even though parking a truck in a bike lane is a potential danger to cyclists as well as pedestrians.
This irked one longtime Upper West Sider so much that he launched a one-man crusade, filing numerous complaints, pressuring the police to act, and emailing city officials. In a recent phone interview with West Side Rag, which had gotten one of the impassioned emails that he had sent far and wide, the crusader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said he first noticed this last summer, made some complaints, and then when the trucks came back this spring, he kicked his campaign into high gear. A cyclist, he focuses his attention on the Central Park West bike lanes and submits as many as ten complaints to 311 every day, he said.
The ice cream trucks sometimes park in the path of the bike lane, causing riders to go out into traffic. More often, they park in the buffer zone area of the bike lane, bringing ice cream customers right into the very busy bike path where they wait in line and often linger. This offers cyclists three unappealing options: riding out into traffic; stopping until the path is clear; or just plowing right through and trying not to hit anyone.
“Someone is going to get killed here one of these days,” the crusader said, citing the case of an Australian woman who died in 2018 when she had to veer out of the bike lane on Central Park West to avoid a car parked in it and another cyclist also killed on Central Park West in 2021. When the crusader asked police officers to do something, he said they claimed they couldn’t do more than issue a ticket. But in his view, the ticket is just the cost of doing business for the ice cream vendors. (A cost that some neglected paying until the city cracked down on unpaid tickets in Midtown a few years ago.)
“How do they get away with it?” he asked. “There are hardcore rules. All the other vendors have to be in specific spots. They can’t just park wherever the hell they feel like it.”
WSR contacted the Department of Transportation, which recommended reaching out to the NYPD, which handles enforcement of traffic regulations. An NYPD spokesperson responded to our query by email: “The NYPD does not allow any vehicles to double park, park in bike lanes or violate any parking regulations.” Those who do, the spokesperson wrote, will receive a summons. But the spokesperson did not respond to our other questions: what do police do about repeat offenders, and have the police specifically addressed the ice- cream-truck issue.
On a recent afternoon, WSR counted seven ice cream trucks on Central Park West between West 67th and West 96th Streets. Four of them were parked on the east side of the street in the bike lane buffer zones. One, on 96th Street, was in front of a fire hydrant. When asked why they were parked illegally, the vendor said in Spanish that there’s nowhere else to park and if there’s an emergency, they can quickly move. When another vendor, parked on 81st Street in the bike lane buffer area, was asked why he parked illegally, he said, “I have a job.”
An off-duty police officer later asked if this reporting was for an article about the trucks. Eager to share his thoughts about them but wishing to remain anonymous, he discussed several ways in which he believes they break the law. But when it came to blocking the bike lanes, he struck a sympathetic tone, saying, “there should be some system where they get parking spots.”
The company most known for sending out these trucks, New York Ice Cream, which has engaged in turf battles for years with Mister Softee, did not respond to a request for comment about the matter of illegal parking.
When City Councilmember Gale Brewer’s office received the crusader’s email, it contacted the NYPD to ask for more enforcement, according to Brewer spokesperson Sam Goldsmith, who said police definitely could do more than ticketing. “If you’re parked in a bike lane,” he said, “you can be towed. Period.”
“The trucks are getting away with too much,” Goldsmith said, “whether it’s parking in the bike lane, in front of fire hydrants or other no standing areas. Parking in the bike lane is particularly dangerous. People on bicycles are killed by cars at an alarming rate and this exacerbates the risk by a lot.”
It is precisely the combination of the danger and lack of a meaningful penalty that most rankles and motivates the crusader.
“I’m just trying to get a little bit of accountability in one little space that affects my life,” he said. “You can’t do whatever you want with no consequences and put people’s lives at risk.”