Tag Archives: introduction

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.

The case for a statewide look at transit

With much attention focused on issues that mean nothing in this upcoming, lengthy campaign to select our state’s next Governor, luckily one issue that should be front and center in the coming weeks will receive some attention today because of presumptive Democratic candidate Artur Davis‘ appearance at a summit in downtown Birmingham as its keynote speaker.

The issue is transit.

As the State Legislature begins its new session on Tuesday with a potential first step plainly in front of them, the question is whether or not transit can become the issue that symbolically and physically begins to unite this state and take it into the 21st century. 

One point that has been raised again and again about the Inauguration was the ability for Washington’s Metro system to move more people than normal (4 ½ times more to be exact) and to demonstrate just what it would be like with limited access for cars. It’s also definitely been a question on some minds as my last post didn’t get any feedback except for one person wanting the discussion to look to transit.

A proposal being presented by Alabama State Representative Rod Scott (D) allows the state’s numerous transit systems (and there are several) to work together to collect funds to move all of them, large and small, forward. A task force would study whether or not a fully functioning commission would be necessary and identify how this commission would be able to work in the best interest of the entire state to include transit solutions in discussions about transportation in the years and decades ahead. For those wondering if even some of these transit providers could get along, I recently attended one of their first meetings and while there may still be a couple of questions, all agree that the issue of transit and securing adequate funding to provide the service that the people of Alabama need is a top priority.

There are monies that may be available if the President’s economic stimulus plan is passed that would provide a way for the state to take a good, hard look at transit and how it could also become a major tool in economic development, allowing not just those living in rural communities or our state’s inner cities but those living in our wealthiest neighborhoods to be able to have a relatively inexpensive, reliable and efficient method of travel to and from work. Even if those monies end up not being available, the collective bargaining power of this alliance among transit providers should allow for other funding sources to be identified.

The benefits in Birmingham are ones worth pointing out. A light rail system similar to our long departed streetcar system would provide an easy way for folks to get around town, perhaps going to work, a concert in Railroad Reservation Park, or maybe even give folks a much cheaper way to get to Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. Of course, being able to fully fund our bus system and seeing folks use it consistently will determine that future than anything else, particularly in light of Birmingham’s street paving project effectively halting any plans for it (unless the Regional Planning Commission has finally worn the mayor down on the concept of bus rapid transit, which could do many of the things a light rail system could do), though the paving needed to be done.

We could even get to the point where those in our tech community could enjoy WiFi during their commute, a service that the Bay Area’s BART system recently announced would be expanded to be systemwide within the next two years.

After speaking with some of the principals and attending the first meeting of the group supporting Scott’s measure in Montgomery (comprised in part of some of Alabama’s larger transit authorities) I believe that it’s something whose time has come. It is not a question of turning our backs on our cars as much as it is an chance to help jumpstart the future of the state and of gaining true support for it.

André Natta is the managing editor of The Terminal.

You know, it's really nice to have you here…

It’s been a topic on my mind for several weeks now, especially while I was out of town.

I’d actually known about the existence of the CVB’s new “IN” Birmingham campaign for some time and thought that it was a really cool concept. The idea of getting people to be proud of their community and what they have in their community is paramount to bringing an area back based on personal experiences. Apparently, I’m not alone in having those thoughts.

While I am aware that some may not necessarily agree with that last statement, I’ll see if you’ll agree that other things always stands out. Personality and individuality. Both of those things are extremely important as it lets you know. I grew up in a town where the mayor has always been a personality that embodies the city. While living in Savannah I can tell you that the stories found in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil were not nearly as good as the ones I got to hear from the individuals that made the city and my experience what it was.

We have many of those kinds of individuals and stories tucked away here in Birmingham. Some are already recognized both regionally and nationally for what they’ve contributed. There are many however that have not had a spotlight focused on them, or at least not one bright enough for more people to know about them and there are many of us that are not aware of anyone from either set.

It's Nice to Have You in Birmingham logoSo we’re going to look to an old slogan for the city for some inspiration for a new series of submissions about The Magic City. The 1961 “It’s Nice to Have You in Birmingham” campaign is one that still rings in the ears of residents in the region both young and old. We’d like for you to take a new look at that statement – to really think about who you like to see every day in Birmingham and why. We’re hoping that it will help us develop a mosaic of careers, backgrounds, personalities and missions that best exemplify the best thing about Birmingham – its people.

I’m asking you to let us know who you’re happy to see in Birmingham – hopefully by writing a piece for publication on this site. Think of it as NPR’s “This I Believe” series only Birmingham-centric! We’ll even record you reading your submission or perhaps do a quick audio interview with the person that you nominate to be featured. We want to make this into a continuing campaign on The Terminal, for the people are the city.

Let’s show them just who they are.

If you’re interested in submitting a nomination/entry to this series, please send in your comments to info@bhamterminal.com. If you really want to be one of the first ones, send in your responses by close of business next Friday, February 29. You can also reach us using any of the methods listed on our contact page.