Tag Archives: comparison

How are other cities handling food trucks?

This year’s Birmingham Magazine Best of Bham readers poll allowed participants to vote for the Best Food Truck. An online petition launched last week to show support for area food trucks has continues to grow; the new target is 1,500 signatures with more than 1,160 already collected. If there’s any doubt in your mind right now, get over of it:

Food trucks are here to stay; the question is how they’ll be handled.

The recent issue of food truck regulations has found me looking around online for the past few days to see if we’re alone on this issue. The findings – not even close to being alone. Food truck regulation is apparently a big issue in several cities right now. This week for example, Portland, ME and Chicago, IL will attempt to pass new ordinances aimed at making both sides agreeable, with neither side necessarily declaring victory so far.

A couple of things took place last week providing insight into how crazy the food truck issue is in several cities right now. It should help those involved come up with a good solution for all.

The first event happened on July 9 as Chick-Fil-A rolled out their new food truck at Farragut Square in Washington, DC. According to a post on “All We Can Eat,” The Washington Post’s food blog, the truck had been planned for some time (it was supposed to debut in April and was seen in May and June around town) and underwent a design change before its apparently successful relaunch on the streets of the Nation’s Capitol. Incidentally, one of the reasons cited by Chick-Fil-A for introducing the truck in the piece is their lack of physical locations in metro DC (one actually – on a college campus). The ability to gauge interest in eventually opening brick and mortar establishments was what the head of DC’s Small Business Administration pointed out in a recent interview.

By the way, DC Mayor Vincent Gray introduced a new ordinance in January that would among other things allow food trucks to stay parked in one spot instead of needing to be “hailed” like a cab in order to conduct business. It would also dictate the hours they would be allowed to operate in the District.

Thursday, July 12, saw a the spotlight focused on food trucks… in Chicago. Our friends at Gapers Block were one of several media outlets writing about the first ever Chicago Food Truck Day. The event was organized in advance of the upcoming July 19 hearing involving that city’s new food truck ordinance that would among other things finally allow operators to cook on board. The Chicago Tribune reports they’d also have to install GPS devices to allow the city to track them, making it easier to enforce a two-hour parking limit at any one location while being able to operate 24 hours a day.

Chicago’s municipal legislation has been stalled out for at least a year according to most reports and it’s not come without its share of debate, including an interactive debate presentation over on The Huffington Post. It should calm folks looking at Birmingham’s current situation and the discussions surrounding a rewrite of local laws to accommodate the growing industry that others are tackling it as well.

Specifying distances is not necessarily new – Chicago is asking for a 200 ft. distance from the front door of brick and mortar restaurants; incidentally, Portland, Maine’s asking them to be 65 feet away after hours while actually being more restrictive during the day in their proposed ordinance (scheduled for a vote later on today – Monday, July 16).

There have also been some successes so far. Boston (as usual) has found a way to make it hip and cool, even creating a page on their website letting people know which trucks are out and where they’re located as well as a streamlined page for applying for the requisite permits. This while they’ve instituted a lottery system as part of their process. The folks in Memphis are talking about how successful their ordinance (PDF) has been – becoming a lucrative opportunity for several operators shortly after its passage last spring.

Hey, at least we’re not in Clearwater, FL, where they have no intention of adapting their ordinances to accommodate food trucks any time soon. Those willing to talk about the negative long term effects may want to look at what problems developed in Raleigh, NC some ten months after their battle over their food truck ordinance (PDF)none.

Time will tell what happens here. There appears to be folks willing to work together and a community that’s willing to support whatever decision is reached. With several cities going through the same situation right now, hopefully it will calm folks down while also giving everyone an idea of what’s working and what’s not.

An Olympic-sized dream

As I looked at the story that ran on the Birmingham News’ site on Saturday about Mayor Langford wanting to bid for the 2020 Olympics and saw the reaction of readers, a few things ran through my mind.

I found it funny that people will say that all outsiders know about Birmingham is what happened during the Civil Rights movement, yet “no one’s even heard of Birmingham” whenever we want to think big. I also find it funny that people think that downtown is so dangerous. My current plans to move have nothing to do with safety – it’s more to do with the costs. It is probably one of the safer downtown areas I’ve ever lived in. Finally, (at least to me) it’s not about actually getting the Games – though that’s the ultimate goal – it’s about knowing that you could be an Olympic minded city.

I also stumbled across this post over on Daily Dixie late last night. While some of the things in the list are true, maybe having a goal as unattainable as hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics could start to move us in the  direction we want to go in. It would also force us to begin to look at taking ownership of some of the bigger issues in our community ourselves as citizens, an idea whose time I believe has finally come in The Magic City. Why sit back and wait for someone else to do something when you can take initiative yourself?

I’m not saying that I think we have a chance at all to get the Games at all. I think besides the arbitrary reasons people will want to give, I’d point to the International Olympic Committee‘s historic precedent (and dislike) of not having cities so close to each other hosting games so soon after one another, even with the 24 years that will have elapsed between the Centennial games of Atlanta and our elected leader’s goal. Our chances will also hinge on whether Chicago is successful in its current bid to host the Games in 2016 – if they are, it would further hurt our chances. There’s also the quality of the 27 other cities that are hoping for the nod when the lucky city is announced sometime in 2013. While I won’t be as caustic as Scarbinsky was, there are other numbers that don’t necessarily say “over here, over here!”.

This is one time though where I think many of us pundits would love to be proven wrong. A familiar quote has resurfaced during my research and founding UAB President Volker’s comments have never echoed in my mind as much as they do now. We must dream big dreams for the city and the region, but our leaders must realize that they must work together to solve the issues of the day. Compromise and partnerships are two things that, while becoming more prevalent in recent conversations, still seem to elude us when they matter most. The thing is, attempting to win the right to host a Summer Olympics would force the city of Birmingham and its leadership, elected and otherwise, to take a good hard look at the issues that face the city and the region and have significant progress made by a clear and absolute deadline.

The year 2020 has always appeared to be an important one to our area’s community leaders. Several organizations, most notably Region 2020, have chosen the arbitrary date as a deadline for when things need to be accomplished. Mayor Langford’s proclamation while in attendance at the Alabama Sports Festival may have been “classic” Larry, however those around him will realize quickly that many of his ideas, if linked together under this umbrella, may actually get some traction, whether it’s a dome, new housing, new businesses, better transit, etc. So long as the improvements made to the city are done for the good of its citizens and not to be “as good as” any other large Southern metropolitan city, it could be the goal that finally makes us work for it. It also provides something for us to hold him accountable to and a bar to reach for when 2020 finally descends upon us.

If you use Chicago’s current bid for the 2016 Summer Games as an example, many of the infrastructure improvements that would need to be made would have to see significant progress by 2012, giving Langford until the end of his current term to leave what would be an indelible mark indeed. Even if we were unsuccessful, it would be a feather in his cap to see just what could be accomplished for our citizens in order to try to even compete, especially after reviewing the 257-page application completed for consideration to host the 2016 Games. It could also be a great way to measure his success and determine if he deserves another term in office.

André Natta is the managing editor of The Terminal.