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.