Et Tu, Mister Softee?

Mister Softee set up shop on the Prince Street bike lane near the corner of Broadway this weekend. Note the pedestrians squeezing through the narrow strip of sidewalk between the ice cream truck and the subway railing. Prince Street, you may recall, was slated to go car-free on Sunday’s all summer long until the SoHo Alliance scuttled the deal back in March.

Have you got a good Eyes on the Street photo? Send it along.

  • Not to excuse Mister Softee, but it looks like there’s a nasty metal grate taking up almost the entire width of the bike lane. Even if the truck wasn’t there, I would move out into traffic to avoid that grate.

  • Spud Spudly

    I know that guy. Mr Softee runs his engine all day long and everyone walking down Broadway gets blasted by the hot air and exhaust fumes coming from the back of the truck. Buy Good Humor!

  • I work around the corner from here. If any NYC street is ripe for a permanent redesign as a pedestrian and bicycle-only space, it is Prince Street. Pedestrians are literally spilling off the sidewalk and taking over the street.

  • How is this at all surprising? Mister Softee’s ability to do business is predicated on the ability to park next to the sidewalk, and there’s certainly no available legal street parking (especially enough space to accommodate an ice cream truck) on a weekend afternoon in Soho.

  • Barnard

    How could the SoHo Alliance oppose closing Prince Street on weekend afternoons?

    That neighborhood probably has some of the heaviest pedestrian traffic in the entire city. They should close a area bound by the Bowery, 6th Avenue, Houston and Canal Streets.

    Why make the walkers suffer? To accommodate the few people who drive? Come on!

  • If buses and trucks are prohibited (rightly) from idling their engines, why do these trucks get a free pass? It’s not like there aren’t hundreds of places to buy ice cream in the city.

  • Mr. Softee needs to play by the rules just like everyone else. Either they set up a sidewalk stand or park legally or be fined.

  • fdr

    At least if the pedestrians squeezing past the subway railing step into the street the Mister Softee truck will prevent them from being run over. If it wasn’t there, they’d probably be hit by a bike. I was almost hit today by 2 delivery guys on bikes going the wrong way on Church Street.

  • Urbanis, you’re absolutely right. I was walking west on Prince last week to the Apple Store, and had to step off the curb and into the bike lane to avoid a crowd around a sidewalk-obstructing vendor. I made sure to look over my shoulder first, however, to make sure I wasn’t getting in the way of a cyclist.

    It’s high time to start taking back some SoHo street space from cars and giving it to peds and bikes.

  • Every Saturday afternoon, I walk down Broadway from the upper 90s to the Fairway store at 74th and Broadway. Every time, I pass three, count ’em, three Mr. Softee trucks parked on the side streets, idling and spewing diesel exhaust into the air — I’ve learned to hold my breath as I walk past them. Broadway is full of dedicated ice cream stores as well as other stores that sell ice cream. Mr. Softee doesn’t provide any service that’s not already thoroughly replicated along Broadway. Time for the city to begin enforcing the law against idling vehicles.

  • Are you guys entirely sure that that’s their engine running all day? There’s one that annoyingly lives all summer outside my window, but when I get close to it, it doesn’t sound like it’s the actual truck engine running. I’ve never felt like asking the guy myself, but here’s where you can contact them to ask them about that and other things like parking in bike lanes. It’s where I recently wrote to complain to them about one of their guys driving while talking on a hand-held phone:
    http://www.mistersoftee.com/contact.html

  • CityKid

    Fed Ex and UPS trucks park in that lane all the time. Why aren’t they towed?

  • Whatever they’re running, it’s hot, smells like diesel, and is full of sooty particulates.

  • Spud Spudly

    The city’s idling law exempts vehicles that need to run their engine in order to operate “a processing device.”

    http://law.onecle.com/new-york/new-york-city-administrative-code/ADC024-163_24-163.html

    I would guess that the soft serve machine qualifies as such, otherwise Mr Softee couldn’t stop in one place for longer than three minutes.

  • Timmy

    Eric, the incompentence and inability of the NYPD to do anything about all the illegal street vending in Soho is exactly why the Soho Alliance (along with approximately 200 people who showed up a community board meeting) opposed the closing of Prince Street. On any weekend half the sidewalk space is taken by illegal vendors. If the NYPD would actually enforce the illegal vending rules and tow (as #12 points out) the FEDEX and UPS trucks you could easily walk down the sidewalks and the bikers could easily get down the street

  • I wonder what would actually happen if one of the illegal street vendors decided to set up shop in the street instead of on the sidewalk. The truth, of course, is that they would be disruptive to fewer people that way. But they’d probably end up in trouble–for making themselves less of a problem.

  • d

    I believe that most Mister Softee trucks do not run the truck’s engine but keep the refrigerator/freezing unit running while they are in business. Now, it probably uses gasoline, but it might not be the actual truck’s engine.

  • Ian Turner

    Mister Softee’s business model is essentially unethical. It is predicated on polluting the air with noise and exhaust, and on consuming valuable street space, without paying the cost of these externalities. When people ask, “How could they do business without these things?”, the answer is “they can’t”. The corollary is that mister softee and other businesses with the same model should just be shut down.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Timmy,

    DOT’s “Summer Streets” concept for Prince Street would have given you two potential solutions to your vendor problem:

    1. Getting the traffic and the parked cars off of Prince Street would have opened up a lot more space for pedestrians. Vendors crowding the sidewalk are probably not going to be such a bother once the entire street is opened to pedestrians.

    2. Your community had a lot of leverage and could have negotiated with DOT and the Mayor to crackdown on the vendors during the Summer Streets events. DOT made clear that they would help you with that. I bet you could have gotten a guarantee from the Mayor.

    Yet, instead of those two potential solutions to your street vendor problem, what have you got this summer? Nothing but New Jersey drivers cramming up Prince Street, Mister Softee in the bike lane, pedestrians spilling out into the street and, yep, your dreaded street vendors all over the place.

    So, good work, Timmy and SoHo Alliance! You guys are geniuses.

  • Basically, the SoHo Alliance said they’d rather have the cars than the people. Sad world, isn’t it?

  • It’s actually not Mister Softee, so don’t blame them. It’s one of their many imitators. Hence the “Soft Ice Cream” emblazoned across the truck, rather than “Mister Softee”.

  • JP

    I’m all for reducing the amount of car-traffic on NYC streets. But I also understand the SoHo alliance’s reluctance to go car-free. From a March NYTimes article:

    “Opponents of the plan, among them Sean Sweeney, executive director of the SoHo Alliance, say that creating more space for pedestrians would make the area even more of a destination for tourists, attracting more visitors and vendors, which would force existing traffic onto adjacent streets and destroy any last remnants of the neighborhood’s residential character.

    “The first week, if you had no cars you’d have some room maybe,” Mr. Sweeney said. “But after a couple of weeks or a couple of months, the word would go out in all the tourist guides: ‘Oh, the Prince Street mall!’ ””

    I could very well see how closing the streets to car traffic could harm the already deteriorated character of the neighborhood.

    The article closes with this quote from a community board member:
    “‘Do you like Prince Street the way it is?’ ” he said. “Almost no one can say that. So, what are we going to do about it?””

  • I think the SoHo Alliance is confusing public and private space. A New York City street is not a private backyard (or a resident parking lot). It is public space — and thus it’s perfectly legal and natural for people from outside the neighborhood to walk and shop there. It’s also appropriate for the various parts of city government to consider how this public space might be made more hospitable to pedestrians, which would benefit the neighborhood and the city as a whole.

  • “Opponents of the plan…say that creating more space for pedestrians would make the area even more of a destination for tourists, attracting more visitors and vendors, which would force existing traffic onto adjacent streets and destroy any last remnants of the neighborhood’s residential character.”

    1) Closing a street to automobile traffic does not increase traffic congestion on neighboring streets. It reduces the overall level of traffic. For example, it was argued in the 1950’s that a car-free Washington Square Park would result in greater traffic on surrounding streets. Just the opposite was shown. (See http://www.panix.com/~danielc/nyc/washsq.htm)

    2) A neighborhood’s residential character is destroyed far more by unbridled automobile traffic (and parking) than pedestrians.

    3) If the problem is illegal vendors, then the SoHo Alliance should work with the NYPD to remove them. Pedestrianization does not equal street fair.

    Frankly, the SoHo Alliance’s position, as stated here, smacks of xenophobia more than anything else. I’m surprised they’re not agitating to have the Prince Street subway station closed to keep out the riff-raff.

  • “Oh, the Prince Street mall!”

    Yes, that is what all the tourist guides are always saying. They’re not much on creative writing. Oh, the Statue of Liberty! Oh, this or that attractive and human-friendly thing! We must put and end to tourists, AND THEIR NASTY TOURIST GUIDES.

    Tourist hating, by the way, is a really ignorant cause to rally around.

  • After 25 comments, the levels of chicanery have been exposed: This guy is stealing Mr. Softee’s trade dress and underselling nearby birck-and-mortar ice cream stores with $2 (and sometimes when its really hot, they cahrge $3) cones with anemic dollops of nondairy stuff masquerading as ice cream. And I’m sure he’s not paying any sales taxes. Why does NYC promote this business model by providing free parking spaces (or unenforced or underenforced no parking spaces)?

  • Timmy

    Urbanis, just because we are willing to give our opinions about our neighborhood doesn’t make us “xenophobic”. Nice try however. The NYPD recieves hundreds of complaints every year about illegal vending in Soho and doesn’t provide any enforcement. If there wasn’t any illegal street vending on Prince there would be plenty of space to walk.

    Whenever this blog talks about Prince Street it always has to twist it into something nasty about the Alliance instead of promoting helpful suggestions. For example, it should be pointed out that something more can be done about the ice cream truck then simply bitching about it on this blog. Whenever I see the illegal parked trucks on Prince Street I call 311 to report it. If more people complain then perhaps the City will do something and the bike lane won’t be blocked.

  • Ian Turner

    Timmy, what makes you think that the NYPD is “incompetent” in its “inability … to do anything about all the illegal street vending”, but that a call to 311 will have an effect on noisy ice cream trucks? Do you think calling 311 will have an effect on vehicles that park in the bike lane or garbage trucks that pick up at 2 AM?

  • That endless line of sidewalk vendors on Prince is a real impediment to pedestrian traffic; it’s why pedestrians have to veer out onto the street.

    http://www.forgotten-ny.com

  • Hoog

    I work directly off Prince. The cars suck but if you closed the street off to motorized vehicles, it would be full of all those crappy street vendors selling stuff that in six months is destined to end up in a land fill. The concept of car-free is good, but it lacks in vision and ‘saleability’ to those who live and work in the neighborhood. It isn’t just about car-free. It isn’t just about bikeability, and it certainly isn’t just about making walking easier. Agreed the current mix is agog, but removing cars altogether isn’t the answer either.

  • Daniel

    Kevin, I’m a big fan of your site, and I’m surprised to hear you buying into the Soho Alliance crowd’s tired line about vendors being the problem on Prince St. Sean Sweeney has had it out for street vendors for decades, but if you stop to think about it, the vendors give Soho more character than anything else these days. And they have as much right to be there as anybody else. I live in Soho and ride in the Prince St. bike lane practically every day, and I for one would much rather share Prince St. with vendors than with cars.

  • momos

    Mr Softee is at that spot in the bike lane all the time — I saw him there the last time I rode down Prince St two weekends ago.

  • Afraid I don’t know the Soho Alliance at all … speaking from experience trying to squeeze my way down Prince past the vendors, and I do occasionally have to go into the street.

    I’m not saying put ’em out of business, but let’s clear out some part of the sidewalk for peds. Pedestrians are being squeezed wherever you turn…

    http://www.forgotten-ny.com

  • Hi Kevin,

    I’m also a huge fan of your site. I think what Daniel and others here are saying is that rather than pit vendors against pedestrians in a competition for sidewalk space, we should make all of Prince Street a pedestrian and bicycle-only zone. The street is both narrow enough and the foot traffic heavy enough to warrant it. A pedestrianized thoroughfare would also be far more charming than the current street configuration.

    I read the anti-pedestrianization arguments here as saying, “let’s not make our streets too attractive or we’ll be overrun.”

  • Timmy

    “Urbanis” your spinning again when you call the residents of Soho “anti-pedestrian”. The Alliance and others have consistently argued that what really concerns everyone is that it isn’t safe to walk down the street. I’ve seen the elderly and handicapped people forced to walk in the street because illegal vendors were hogging up most of the street. I’ve also witnessed fist fights between vendors and pedestrians who accidentally bump their illegally placed tables and I’ve seen vendors kick dogs when they pee in front of illegal tables.

    Even though you keep trying to sell a Prince Street closure as a good thing there is absolutely no real life evidence that it would work in this particular setting.

  • Streetsman

    There’s no real life evidence to support it because the Community Board rejected the pilot project (mainly based on the misinformation circulated in flyers prior to the release of the details of the program).

    The slideshow I saw posted on Streetsblog says:

    – “Open Sundays” will be studied by DOT during operation to evaluate positive or negative effects on pedestrian movement and local traffic circulation

    – During the program and after the pilot program ends, local businesses and residents will be surveyed for their opinions

    – A post-mortem evaluation will be held with the Community Board to measure the program’s success

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/03/12/dot-details-prince-street-open-sundays-project/

  • Davis

    Even though you keep trying to sell a Prince Street closure as a good thing there is absolutely no real life evidence that it would work in this particular setting.

    You’ve got to be kidding, Timmy. The “real life evidence” that Prince could make a successful pedestrian-only zone is OVERWHELMING. Look at Copenhagen, Paris, London, Istanbul, Bogota, Freiburg, Jerusalem, Portland or any number of other cities around the world and you will find scores of streets very similar to Prince in scale, character and use that have been pedestrianized with great success for merchants, residents and visitors.

    Given that your community group blocked this summer’s proposed car-free Sunday experiment, I can’t believe that you’re sitting here arguing that we don’t have the evidence to support a Summer Streets program on Prince. Of course, we don’t have the best possible evidence. You prevented that evidence from being gathered.

    At any rate… I do hope you’re enjoying yet another summer of vendor-filled sidewalks, horn-honking jerks inching their way to the Holland Tunnel and a public realm in SoHo that is, for the most part, deeply unpleasant. This crappy environment is a direct result of the SoHo Alliance’s advocacy work “on behalf of the community.”

  • Jason A

    “The Alliance and others have consistently argued that what really concerns everyone is that it isn’t safe to walk down the street.”

    -or-

    “Even though you keep trying to sell a Prince Street closure as a good thing there is absolutely no real life evidence that it would work in this particular setting.”

    I’m sorry, but this sounds like a contradiction. I’m not following you here…

  • Hi Timmy, I agree with the Alliance 100% that not being able to walk safely down the street as a pedestrian is a bad thing. However, I think you are misreading my comments.

    I have not stated anywhere that SoHo’s *residents* are anti-pedestrian. Rather, I stated that the *SoHo Alliance’s* arguments are *anti-pedestrianization.* Pedestrianization refers to the closure of a street to automobile traffic and reserving it exclusively for foot traffic. By publicly opposing the pedestrianization of Prince Street, the Alliance is stating a position that is anti-pedestrianization.

    Xenophobia refers to a fear of strangers and foreigners–outsiders. And this quote from the executive director of the Alliance in the NY Times exemplifies a concern about outsiders overrunning Prince Street:

    “The first week, if you had no cars you’d have some room maybe,” Mr. Sweeney said. “But after a couple of weeks or a couple of months, the word would go out in all the tourist guides: ‘Oh, the Prince Street mall!’ ”

    I’m not here to misrepresent others’ opinions, be divisive, or resist reason. If I heard a compelling set of arguments as to why closing Spring Street to automobile traffic were bad for SoHo, I would gladly support the Alliance’s position. As someone who works in SoHo, I have an interest along with the Alliance in making SoHo a pleasant place to live, work, and visit.

  • Although NYC’s street fairs have a tendency toward the banal (see Suzanne Wasserman’s analysis in the book The Suburbanization of New York), in my very unscientific observation, one thing they prove is that pedestrianization of the street actually improves circulation on the sidewalk. This spring, when Broadway below Houston was closed for a street fair, for example, the sidewalks were the emptiest I’ve ever seen them (I am on them every day for work) because all the people were in the street.

    If Prince Street were closed to auto traffic and the vendors were permitted to set up on the pavement, facing in toward the street, the sidewalks would then be wide open for all manner of pedestrians/wheelchair riders/strollers/etc. to pass relatively uninhibited. I believe the bike lane could even be left intact with the vendors on one side setting up with their backs to the lane.

    The notion that there is no evidence that pedestrianizing streets improves quality of life is ludicrous. Take a look around NYC the few times alternative street arrangements go into place. Or, go elsewhere. I was just in Buenos Aires, a city even less pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly (and more car-obsessed) than NYC, and even there I found pedestrian-only streets. They were lovely.

  • Streetsman

    BTW the pedestrian streets in cities abroad are usually by far the most beautiful and pleasant and prestigious. It’s hard to see why a group would vocally reject that kind of treatment for their neighborhood. In particular, business owners. I also pulled this nugget out of that DOT presentation that they cited being from intercept survey results:

    – By a ratio of 5:1, expanding pedestrian space would attract people to come to Prince Street more often

    – Those visitors who would come more often with a reallocation of space from parking to pedestrians spend about five times as much money in the neighborhood as do visitors who would come less often

    So ostensibly pedestrianizing Prince Street would invite most people to come to Prince Street more often, and those that would be coming more often are the ones who spend the most. Translation: significantly increased business for everyone.

    I don’t know who the heck is on the board at Soho Alliance but how do they go around parading the fact that they killed a pilot project that would have brought increased business at no cost to them?

  • If you care about bike lanes and enforcement, check out this video i shot regarding just that issue.

    http://www

  • Someone told me, belatedly, to check out your website, where apparently people with little or no knowledge of SoHo, its residents, or the SoHo Alliance seem inclined to throw uninformed invective. In particular, someone who gets a salary from streetsblog!

    Go to sohoalliance.org. Check out the current news reports on the left-hand menu and other news stories under ‘archives’.

    It will show that the Alliance has consistently fought to control auto congestion in SoHo.

    Further examples

    -Defeat of Moses’ Lower Manhattan X-pressway by SoHo pioneers in the 60s which led to the rebirth of our neighborhood

    -Sued the MTA in 1987 to reverse the tolls on the Verrazano Bridge, which is responsible for much of the truck traffic and pollution in lower Manhattan

    – Agitate politically constantly to reverse the Verrazano Bridge tolls at every one of our meetings to this very day

    – Advocated in the mid-90s for one of the first bike lanes in the city, the one on Lafayette Street

    – Opposed attempts by DOT to turn Houston Street into a faster highway than it already is.

    – Fought with bike groups in 2006 for a Class A protected bike lane on Houston St

    – Work getting trucks off of Broome Street (they are being ticketed this very day, thanks to agitation by our membership)

    – Consulted with various traffic studies, even with Transportation Alternatives, to determine what is best traffic-wise for SoHo

    – Sponsored demonstrations for more police enforcement of traffic law violators

    – Crafted Zoning legislation that will eliminate every parking lot in SoHo

    – etc, etc, etc, = time does not permit me to list all the good things we have done to make SoHo ped friendly

    Do we agree all the time with rigid-thinking cyclists with an agenda? No.

    Does that therefore indicate that we think out our position for what is best for the neighborhood, instead of a knee-jerk reaction? Yes!

    We are not paid employees, like the folks at Streetsblog or Transportation Alternatives, .

    We are 100% volunteer, dedicating our time for the benefit of our community. We have wide, wide, widespread support from our residents for all the good deeds we have done for our neighborhood over the decades.

    Instead of attacking your allies, show some political savvy and go after the people who have neither of our interests at heart

  • One final thing I overlooked,

    We worked very hard this past year to get Congestion Pricing implemented. In fact, Shelley Silver came to our members and we lobbied hard to get CP passed.

    We also had lobbied Silver to kill the Westside Jets Stadium, which would have resulted in a traffic fiasco. He listened to us in that instance.

    Sometime you win, sometimes you lose.

    Again, remember, do not alienate your allies, streesbloogers, for you will accomplish nothing, except abetting your adversaries.

  • I don’t have any allies that dismiss street pedestrianization as a project of “right-thinking cyclists with an agenda”. (Cyclists and their pedestrian agendas?) It’s the SoHo Alliance that is making this into group warfare rather than a policy dispute, in trying to exempt itself from criticism by reliably listing its accomplishments over the decades, then attacking Streetsblog as “cyclists” and “paid employees”. That’s no way to build bridges you supposedly want build.

    Having disagreements on one issue while maintaining a wider alliance is perfectly normal, but as long as the SoHo Alliance comes roaring back against mild, accurate criticism (“was slated to go car-free on Sunday’s all summer long until the SoHo Alliance scuttled the deal”) with attacks on this weblog and its readers (in concert with some verily heinous residents flaunting the debate’s classist underbelly), it isn’t going to have any allies in a popular movement.

  • On a lighter note, Ben Van Leeuwen is offering a fabulous slow food alternative to the Mr. Softee truck on Prince Street. When I went to his truck yesterday, it was parked on Greene Street, not Prince Street, and not in a bike lane. He was not idling his engine. As for the ice cream–wow!

    Here’s a quote from gourmet.com:
    “Van Leeuwen, a 24-year-old former Good Humor truck driver, makes his delicious, rich (18 percent butterfat) ice cream from local, hormone- and antibiotic-free milk and cream (no stabilizers or preservatives), plus other ingredients he culls from around the globe. The superb chocolate is Michel Cluizel; the equally addictive vanilla is made not with extract but with Tahitian beans that a Vancouver company ages in vodka in oak barrels, then grinds. Try a scoop in a float made with Virgil’s Root Beer or Mexican Coke (both sweetened with cane sugar instead of corn syrup, which Van Leeuwen eschews). The nuts in the pistachio ice cream come from a slow-food farm in Sicily; the ones in the hazelnut variety are from Piedmont. All the toppings—caramel and hot-fudge sauces, fresh whipped cream—are homemade and organic.”

    More info: http://www.gourmet.com/restaurants/2008/07/firsttaste_icecream

  • JK

    Prince as a pedestrian street is a great idea. But Sean Sweeney is right that the vendors are out of control there, and in a lot of places. When Bogota’s Enrique Penalosa first visited NYC he commented that the first thing the city should do is reserve the sidewalks for walking. He was astonished that vendors were allowed to constrict usable space to a few feet on some of the city’s busiest sidewalks. There is a total unreality about the vendor laws which allow tables within a close distance of subway entrances and seemingly take no account of how crowded the sidewalks are. Does the City Council walk in this city? Does Ray Kelly?

  • There are ample places to buy ice cream and such in the city. Stores, delis, ice cream parlors. Why do we need free-standing gas-powered fume machines to vend it on every street corner. These things should be either forced to use some kind non-emitting method to keep their goods cool, or they should be banned altogether.

  • Soho news

    The SoHo Alliance is a bogus community organization. I live in the neighborhood for 30 years. It once existed and has been usurped by Sean Sweeney who opposed the bike lane because it usurped weekend parking.

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