Bill Would Require Toxic Ice Cream Trucks to Convert To Green Power



They’re noisy, they’re smelly and they expose thousands of kids, residents and visitors to toxic fumes every day.

Residents in Councilmember Lincoln Restler’s district (DUMBO, Greenpoint, Brooklyn Heights) have complained for years about diesel-belching ice cream trucks. On Thursday, Restler introduced legislation requiring the trucks to switch from using fossil fuel-powered generators for their food equipment to environmentally friendly power sources, such as solar or electric generators. The truck owners would have three years to make the switch. Councilmember Gale Brewer (Upper West Side) is a primary co-sponsor.

“Our office gets hundreds of calls about ice cream truck noise, [but] it’s the gas-powered generators that most concern residents,” Restler said. “We have the technology at our disposal to electrify our ice cream trucks, and our three year timeline gives business owners enough time to make the responsible transition. I’m excited to see how they can serve as a model for electrifying mobile food truck vendors.”

Councilmembers Lincoln Restler and Gale Brewer introduced legislation on Thursday requiring ice cream trucks to switch from using fossil fuel-powered generators to environmentally friendly power sources. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Solar-powered generators are currently available for $3,000 – $5,000, Restler told the Brooklyn Eagle. He expects costs will decrease as electric and solar generators become more widely adopted. California recently banned all gas-powered generators, and Vancouver is working on a similar regulation.

Residents of DUMBO have logged thousands of complaints to 311 about the noise and the sickening fumes from ice cream trucks over the past few years. Trucks owned by Mr. Softee, Brooklyn Ice Cream (unrelated to the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory) and other brands park next to DUMBO’s Open Restaurants, in bike lanes and under residents’ windows, with their motors running for 10, 12 or more hours every day, residents have told the Eagle. 

“We receive more complaints about ice cream trucks in DUMBO than about any other issue,” Restler said. “The combination of noise and pollution that a truck causes sitting in the same corner 12 hours a day, day after day, week after week, is a serious thing.” 

Residents of Brooklyn Heights have also lodged complaints about ice cream trucks parked next to the A train subway stop on Cadman Plaza West, and under the Brooklyn Bridge overpass on Cadman Plaza East, where the fumes get trapped and concentrated.

A single ice cream truck powering its fridge with carbon-based fuel can create 165 pounds of carbon dioxide per day, the equivalent of burning nearly 83 pounds of coal, Restler said. In addition, gas generators produce significant noise — frequently at decibels greater than the recommended safety threshold.

“It’s not good for the driver or neighbors. If we can transition the generators to renewable energy we can severely reduce air pollution and noise and address the climate crisis.” 

This ice cream truck is parked on Washington Street — the famous “selfie” location in DUMBO. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

BHA on board with bill

The Brooklyn Heights Association on Thursday applauded mandating the move to clean energy, and suggested that the city help the vendors make the transition.

“If this year hasn’t made clear the deadly impact that burning fossil fuels has on our planet and our city, I don’t know what will. Ice cream trucks should spread joy and sweet summer vibes – not noise and air pollution,” Lara Birnback, BHA’s executive director, said. “The BHA is grateful to Councilmembers Restler and Brewer for putting forth this bill.

“We recognize that complying with this law means an additional expense for the operators of these trucks,” Birnback added. “At the same time, everyone in the city is being asked to do their part to address the climate emergency. The BHA believes this bill could be a meaningful contributor to that effort now that cleaner and greener options are available to operators. We would love to see the city come up with a program to educate the owners and drivers of the trucks about their options, and help them in whatever way possible to make the transition.” 

Under the councilmembers’ bill, New York City would be the first municipality to mandate environmentally friendly ice cream trucks. When Restler ran for office, he said that his top priority was to decrease the city’s dependence on fossil fuels

“California is working on a similar effort. I hope we can continue to take the lead in New York City for climate justice,” Restler said. 

As of 2017, there were more than 200 ice cream trucks operating in New York City, emitting 33,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into the city’s air every day, according to Restler’s office. Down the road, Restler is interested in crafting similar legislation for other food truck vendors, he said.

Additional quotes: 

“We welcome this legislation that will benefit everyone, especially those who have endured the noxious fumes, noise and vibrations from the diesel generators right outside their windows for hours each day,” said Bill Stein of the Fulton Ferry Landing Association.

“The proliferation of Ice cream Vendors creates noise, pollution and major traffic issues in our neighborhood with no concern for the impact on the residents of DUMBO. We hope the passage of this bill, along with stricter enforcement of existing traffic and vendor laws will help mitigate this ongoing issue,” said the DUMBO Action Committee.

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