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Incessant Ice Cream Truck Jingles Force Neighbors Into Meltdown

By James Fanelli | December 1, 2014 7:35am
 The city's 311 system has received 1,804 complaints about noise from ice cream trucks this year.
The city's 311 system has received 1,804 complaints about noise from ice cream trucks this year.
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Andrew Burton/Getty Images

NEW YORK CITY — The city is having a meltdown over noisy ice cream trucks.

New Yorkers tired of listening to the grating music that trucks use to lure in customers have logged 1,804 complaints to the city’s 311 system so far this year. That’s nearly 200 more than all the complaints for 2013.

A DNAinfo New York review shows that the noise from the popsicle purveyors is driving some residents mad — and leaving them frustrated with the city’s response.

Some even describe the never-ending jingles as music from hell.

“I can't take it anymore,” a despondent Washington Heights resident wrote to 311 on April 28.

”The repetitive ice cream truck music is driving my wife and I insane. It doesn't wax and wane — at some point between 9 and 10 p.m. every night since the start of Spring my wife and I have been greeted by this unrelenting demonic jingle.”

A Bedford-Stuyvesant resident described a Mister Softee truck’s song as noise pollution that’s worse “than neighbors blasting music.”

“It’s insane and loud as f---,” the resident wrote in a 311 complaint on June 2.

Last year, one Harlem resident tried to write out the beat of a terrible ice cream truck jingle in a 311 complaint, describing it as, “Dum dada da da dum da da dum dum, dum dada da da dum.  Dum da dum dada da dum dada dum dum, dum da da dada dum da dum.”

“No matter when it is, it's very loud and terribly annoying as I try to study!” the resident wrote in the April 28, 2013, complaint.

A Brooklyn couple also told a 311 operator on June 3, 2014, that they were losing their mind from the repetitive songs of several ice cream vendors parked outside their building all day.

“Noise is causing mental anxiety to customer and husband,” the operator wrote in the 311 note.

The couple gave the operator the license of a Mister Softee truck, but blamed the city’s Department of Environmental Protection for not ticketing the vendors. DEP inspectors can issue noise violations to the vendors who break city law by playing music while parked.

In a scathing 311 complaint, a Bronx resident also blamed DEP for allowing an ice cream truck to blast the folk song “Turkey in The Straw” for three hours near Van Cortlandt Park.

“The DEP is a catastrophic failure and the entire department should be dismantled,” the resident wrote on June 14. “I wish you hell on earth for not doing your job.”

A month earlier, 311 received four complaints about ice cream-truck noise from a residential building near Van Cortlandt Park.

“How would you like it if you couldn't relax in your home on one of your few days off?” one complaint said. “Why don't DEP agents ticket the ice cream trucks? Hmm? Corruption, corruption, corruption.”

Another complainant in the building vowed to keep calling 311 about the noise until the city took action.

“It’s going to be a looong summer. I will hound your agency until you do your job and stop these criminal noise-blaring, drug-dealing ice cream trucks,” the resident wrote.

The noise around Van Cortlandt isn’t new. One nearby resident, who seems to have gone a little loopy from the ongoing problem, summed up his frustrations in an April 19, 2013, complaint.

“Loud noise while parked, year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after,” the resident wrote.

So far this year, 311 has gotten 537 complaints in Manhattan, 514 in Queens, 417 in Brooklyn, 316 in Bronx and 18 in Staten Island, records show.

The city received the most complaints during the month of May, with 429. The number of monthly complaints slowly declined over the summer, with 403 in June to 200 in August. Only five have been logged so far in November, records show.

When asked about the uptick in the number of 311 complaints this year, a DEP official said that agency inspectors need complainants to provide better information like specific times and locations of the incidents, and the license plate of the vendor.

“We do try to respond to all complaints,” the official said. “But sometimes it’s very difficult. The driver could have not been complying with the noise code, but once the inspector gets there, nobody is breaking the law.”

The DEP said it has so far issued 21 noise violations to ice cream trucks this year. Last year, agency inspectors handed out 31 summonses and, in 2012, they gave out 24.

The DEP official said that the decrease in the number of summonses issued this year showed that more ice cream truck vendors follow the rules. 

But 311 complainants say otherwise — and have written that due to the lack of city response, they’ve tried to take matters into their own hands.

Some wrote that they’ve confronted drivers only to have the music turned up louder. Others wrote that the drivers threatened to fight them or cursed them out when asked to dial down the noise.

One Inwood resident wrote to 311 on May 3 to grouse about a driver who kept playing music while he served customers on the block. 

“This evening after several previous days of this behaviour (when the weather was nice), i approached the driver and informed him that he needed to turn off the music while idling,” the resident wrote.

“His response was to make a lewd gesture (indicating i should "B--- him") and then turn up the music.”