To describe the Foster Avenue frontage road between East 83rd and East 87th streets as unremarkable is generous. On one side, imposing brick warehouse walls span entire blocks. On the other, a steady flow of traffic zips by on northern Canarsie’s main east-west thoroughfare. Litter and fallen leaves mingle in untended dunes, spilling over from the gutter onto the sidewalk. At night, streetlights cast a harsh glare that somehow makes everything feel even dimmer.
But this drab, fifth-of-a-mile stretch of roadway is the flashpoint in a rift between the Brooklyn Terminal Market, a neighborhood stalwart, and a group of truck drivers who say they’re getting short shrift from a newly accelerated policy of ticketing and towing tractor-trailers. While the roadside is designated a no-standing zone during overnight hours, it has long been used as a de facto parking lot for big rigs. But now, at the market’s request, it’s the target of an aggressive police crackdown on illegal commercial parking.
Trucks are the lifeblood of the market, a major wholesaler of produce for stores throughout Brooklyn and beyond. On any given day, up to 200 tractor-trailers come through to load or unload goods at the market’s 29 vendors, according to Charlie Ciraolo, who heads the cooperative that owns and manages the space. (Ciraolo also runs Whitey Produce Co., a vendor at the market whose bright yellow bumper stickers proudly proclaim, OUR SPECIALTY: TEXAS WATERMELONS.)
The problem, Ciraolo said, is that trucks parked on the service road interfere with daily market operations. “They block traffic, so our trucks can’t get out,” he said. “And it’s not fair to our guys who drive all day and then there’s nowhere for them to park. It’s terrible. We want to be friends—we don’t want to be mean—but there’s nowhere for our trucks.”
Richard Andrews doesn’t buy Ciraolo’s argument. The 39-year-old trucker lives just blocks from the market, where since 2000 he has picked up and dropped off produce and Christmas trees, always parking overnight on the service road, he said. “We don’t bother nobody,” Andrews said, adding he doesn’t have many alternatives. “There are no yards in Brooklyn. There’s parking at JFK, but it’s full. Why should I have to park in Jersey? I’m serving the market.”
The battle for street space outside the Brooklyn Terminal Market is just one piece in the citywide puzzle of remedying traffic congestion caused by trucks. Citing the environmental and economic impacts of semi-clogged streets—trucking congestion cost the city’s economy an estimated $862 million in 2017—the New York City Economic Development Corp. recently unveiled a plan, Freight NYC, aimed at drastically reducing the number of trucks on the city’s roads by 2045. By consolidating freight hubs and increasing the amount of freight carried via sea and rail, the plan aims to eliminate over 40 million miles of truck travel each year.
In Canarsie, that epic struggle for space is happening one truck at a time. On a recent brisk evening, Officers Yhayh Saleh and Matthew Mauro from the 69th Precinct were carrying through on warnings made the week prior, when they wrote tickets to truck drivers parked overnight and told them that future violators would be towed. The two directed a specialized heavy tow unit to the vehicles to be hauled to the Brooklyn Tow Pound at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Saleh and Mauro said they don’t find any joy in having trucks towed, but they see the enforcement as a necessary response to the market’s complaints. “It’s what the community wants,” Saleh said with a shrug. Asked if he had any unpleasant encounters during the operation, Mauro said he hadn’t. “The drivers are all gentlemen,” Mauro said, “but they can’t be here, and they know that.”
Pressed by drivers at a community meeting last month, the precinct’s commanding officer, Capt. Terrell Anderson, said his officers would schedule and mediate a summit between the market and the truckers. Drivers said such a meeting has yet to be set up. In the meantime, they’re looking for parking elsewhere.
Andrews pulled up in a sedan as the towers arrived. He had been tipped off by a fellow neighborhood trucker and came over to survey the scene, move his truck, and warn anyone whose truck he recognized that they were in danger of a tow. “I don’t know why these people are complaining,” he said, shaking his head, referring to the market. “We bring the food to the grocery store. We take your garbage to the landfill. And yet we’re still getting chastised because we park here.”
In all, three trucks were towed in the operation, the first in a series of tows to come, said the precinct. Art Rodriguez, 50, another market trucker, lamented the predicament he and his fellow drivers find themselves in. Despite providing an essential service, he said, they’re often castigated. “We don’t get a fair shot at all,” he said. “Help us out. You can’t buy things without us. If we stop moving, the world stops.”