Op Ed: Keep Ice Cream Trucks a Reasonable Distance From Schools

BY  |  Thursday, May 26, 2011 11:00am  |  COMMENTS (11)

The following is an Op-Ed by Chris Len, a Montclair Father of a Charles H. Bullock School student. Chris and his family moved to Montclair two years ago for the great schools and walkable city. He is the staff attorney for Hackensack Riverkeeper and NY/NJ Baykeeper.

The governments of small towns like Montclair have a limited scope of responsibilities, but core among those is to safeguard its children from obvious dangers. Towns differ on how to do that, but surely the least controversial duty a town has is to write regulations and enforce them for the safety of the people.

My son is a kindergartner at the Charles H. Bullock Elementary School. We don’t qualify for busing, so our son waits for us with the other kindergartners on the west side of the school, a few feet from Elm Street. On most days an ice cream truck stands just across from the kindergarten pickup, idling, loudspeakers screaming for kiddie business. I have no choice but to let him wait there, and he has no choice but to wait, with all that ice cream and all that calliope music, oh just out of reach.

Elm St. is one of the busier streets in town, often chock-a-block with cars, buses and trucks. It can, of course, be crossed safely, but kindergartners are small, don’t judge danger well, and aren’t known for impulse control. They are not easily seen from the wheel of a city bus or a delivery truck. Someday, I fear, a child is going to cross to that ice cream truck and be hit.

I don’t have a problem telling my son he can’t have ice cream; I don’t have any problem telling him he can have ice cream. I don’t object to the ice cream. I’ve eaten far more than is strictly necessary, so has he.  While I do have a problem with predatory advertising to children, my primary concern is with physical safety.

I have often called the Montclair Police Department to report the truck – to no lasting effect. Every time I’ve seen it, the truck has idled beyond the three-minute limit, parked illegally and played amplified music – each a violation of town ordinance or state regulation. These violations could be addressed now.

I have informed the police, the school, the town council and the mayor of my concerns in great detail. I have heard from parents at other schools with similar concerns. The situation is unsafe, and it needs to change.

Until last night, I’ve advocated that enforcement of existing laws would be sufficient to solve the problem, but upon further reflection, I’ve changed my mind. The truck could park legally across from Bullock, engines off and music silent. If it did, it would be in compliance with local and state regulations, but the threat of an accident would remain.

The best response is to keep vending trucks a reasonable distance from Montclair schools. After tireless advocacy on the issue by Abraham Dickerson, the Town Council intends to consider doing just that at its next session. I support that idea and hope you will as well.

Not every town thinks it’s reasonable to protect children from ice cream, but surely every town admits it must protect its children from foreseeable traffic hazards.


  1. POSTED BY walleroo  |  May 26, 2011 @ 12:08 pm

    Why don’t you try talking to the owner of the truck. Maybe he could park on the other side of the street, so the kids wouldn’t be tempted to cross.

  2. POSTED BY mommy  |  May 26, 2011 @ 12:37 pm

    Come on….

    Let em have ice cream or say no. The iddling, the emissions….please.

  3. POSTED BY macky  |  May 26, 2011 @ 1:45 pm

    It isn’t just the kindergartners at this school. The pick up parents or caregivers very often have pre-schoolers or toddlers in tow as well, not always under voice or physical control.

    I like the idea of the truck parking a little further away so that it isn’t the first thing the children see when they leave the school but if families want to get ice cream, they can just walk up the block. Seems like a win-win.

  4. POSTED BY Georgette Gilmore  |  May 26, 2011 @ 1:53 pm

    I agree macky. As long as he truck follows the rules, I think it has the right to be there. But it must follow the rules and keep children safe.

  5. POSTED BY bigmama  |  May 26, 2011 @ 10:12 pm

    @mommy, I don’t think you actually read what he wrote which made it pretty clear that he thinks the emissions issue is secondary to the safety issue. And that he doesn’t have any problem saying “no”–or “yes”–to ice cream. I’ve said it before on Baristanet but it bears repeating; someone is really going to get killed b/c of the ice cream truck that parks across from Hillside. First, it parks in the yellow zone and blocks visibility for people coming out of the Pre-K driveway. Second, it creates a big cluster of kids and a traffic obstruction right in the middle of Orange Road where cars really go fast. The truck by Rand/MHS does the same thing and often parks so as to obstruct cars turning right onto Park. If the City doesn’t want to make ice cream trucks stay a reasonable distance from schools, it should at least enforce our existing ordinances. I can’t sit idling and blasting music in a yellow zone so I don’t understand why they should be allowed to do it.

  6. POSTED BY kay  |  May 27, 2011 @ 10:34 am

    If any such truck is blocking traffic or otherwise parked where it shouldn’t be, then move ’em out!!! Traffic ordinances are there for a reason! Some might wonder, Gee, why is this part of the block a yellow curb?? or a No Parking? What the heck, I’ll park here anyway. Uh… d’oh? maybe it’s because People Can’t See to turn out if there are cars parked there? or maybe the road is just too danged narrow with both sides lined up with cars? Jeez! It’s hard enough to get around in this town, without people bolluxing up the place by disobeying signs, parking 2 feet out from the curb, blocking sightlines, and emitting noxious gases for extended periods.

    Ice cream and lunch trucks are all fine, but a little common sense is in order. Oh wait, that’s an elusive commodity these days!

  7. POSTED BY walleroo  |  May 27, 2011 @ 12:45 pm

    Try slashing his tires.

  8. POSTED BY kay  |  May 27, 2011 @ 1:37 pm

    Dearest Roo, the evil-twin part of me has already considered that, numerous times!

  9. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  May 27, 2011 @ 7:45 pm

    Vending trucks now, what’s next?…..

    Drive through UPPER Montclair after school and you will see MOBS of kids going to the candy store, cvs and Starbucks– all attractions that force kids to run across the street, ignore traffic and otherwise put themselves in danger. Are we gonna decide to ban these businesses?

    Here, if the trucks are parked legally then the issue is a parental one. Parents, caregivers, whatever are responsible for the kids at pick up where are they during this kidfest?

    Still, even IF the truck parked 2 blocks away, do you really think there still won’t be a problem?

    Or should the truck be 3 miles from the school?

    In truth, the greatest danger to kids at a school is not the ice-cream truck, it’s probably folks picking up/dropping off their kids. Every morning I see folks drinking coffee, talking on cells and speeding as they drop their kids off.

    That’s the real danger.

    So…. Let’s ban all vehicles from 1 mile of all schools.

  10. POSTED BY bebopgun  |  May 27, 2011 @ 8:07 pm

    This one’s easy. The article was written by a lawyer, who of course being a true believer talks his book and says the only solution is a law. Come on man, I know there’s a solution without requiring a law.

  11. POSTED BY walleroo  |  May 28, 2011 @ 3:20 pm

    How about buying up all the ice cream?

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