Curbed enthusiasm for food truck ordinance

By Kaley Fowler

After months of pushing for an increased citywide presence, local food truck operators were met Oct. 31 with a list of 21 City Council-approved parking spaces. But the designated locations are not quite what many owners had in mind.

Under the new ordinance, food trucks will be restricted to parking in sanctioned spaces for a maximum of two hours, which city officials believe is in the best interest of existing eateries, truck owners and the public.

“These dedicated stands for food trucks will provide additional parking opportunities and expanded operations to foster this growing industry,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel in an Oct. 31 written statement. “They will also help to safeguard communities from added congestion and public safety issues while creating economic opportunity throughout the city.”

In early October, the Chicago Department of Transportation compiled a list of 23 proposed locations in Lakeview, the Loop, the Near North Side, the Near West Side, Lincoln Park and West Town. City Council approved most locations but rejected two spaces: 33 N. LaSalle St. and 2934 N. Broadway Ave.

“I was really excited when the mayor’s office first sent out press releases that showed some of the prospective locations,” said Amy Le, founder of the Illinois Food Truck Association and a local food truck owner. “But then to see some of the spots taken off [the proposal] and [to find out] why they were taken off is disappointing to me.”

According to Bennett Lawson, chief of staff for Alderman Tom Tunney (44th Ward), City Council rejected the Broadway location because its crowded sidewalks raised safety concerns. The density of the area and the space’s proximity to existing businesses also contributed to the decision.

The ordinance includes a stipulation that restricts trucks from parking within 200 feet of an existing brick-and-mortar establishment. Trucks violating the rule can be ticketed and fined up to $2,000.

Alex Levine, creator of FoodTruckFreak.com, said the city decided to designate spaces to offset the 200-foot rule, but it has been unsuccessful because the approved locations are not in densely populated areas. She said letting existing businesses influence where trucks are allowed to park is unfair.

“The way [the city is] going about [choosing locations] seems like the least democratic process it could possibly be,” Levine said. “It’s the equivalent of letting your competitors dictate your business model.”

The locations are also disheartening for many drivers, according to Le. She said that in July, the Illinois Food Truck Association asked the Committee on License and Consumer Protection to offer drivers more parking options in the Loop, but that request was not represented in the ordinance that now features only three Loop locations.

“[The lack of downtown locations] is extremely problematic,” Le said. “You can give us all these stands in the Wicker Park and Bucktown areas, but realistically the trucks aren’t going to make much money off the lunch business in those areas because there’s not the foot traffic you would get downtown.”

Le said she and other food truck owners were disappointed that city officials did not consult them when making decisions regarding where trucks should park.

“None of the food truck owners were included in deciding where the stands would go,” Le said. “We didn’t even know where they were going until we saw it published in the newspaper.”

Lawson declined to comment on the extent of the food truck owners’ involvement in the process.

Despite her dissatisfaction with the approved locations, Le maintains that the program can still be carried out effectively if the city and truck owners cooperate.

“We have the opportunity right now to develop a system that other urban cities can use as a mirror, if done right,” Le said. “But the city has to be willing to actually [listen to] input from the food truck owners.”

“The way [the city is] going about [choosing locations] seems like the least democratic process it could possibly be,” Levine said. “It’s the equivalent of letting your competitors dictate your business model.”

The locations are also disheartening for many drivers, according to Le. She said that in July, the Illinois Food Truck Association asked the Committee on License and Consumer Protection to offer drivers more parking options in the Loop, but that request was not represented in the ordinance that now features only three Loop locations.

“[The lack of downtown locations] is extremely problematic,” Le said. “You can give us all these stands in the Wicker Park and Bucktown areas, but realistically the trucks aren’t going to make much money off the lunch business in those areas because there’s not the foot traffic you would get downtown.”

Le said she and other food truck owners were disappointed that city officials did not consult them when making decisions about where trucks should park.

“None of the food truck owners were included in deciding where the stands would go,” Le said. “We didn’t even know where they were going until we saw it published in the newspaper.”

Lawson declined to comment on the extent of the food truck owners’ involvement in the process.

Despite Le’s dissatisfaction with the approved locations, she maintains that the program can still be carried out effectively if the city and truck owners cooperate.

“We have the opportunity right now to develop a system that other urban cities can use as a mirror, if done right,” Le said. “But the city has to be willing to actually [listen to] input from the food truck owners.”

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