If I had a comfortable job at the Seattle Times, I’d be interested in any regulatory barriers that blocked low-cost competing business models like Craigslist or PubliCola. If I ran an encyclopedia company, I’d be supportive of regulatory hurdles to operating an organization like Wikipedia. And if I were an established restaurant owner, I’d probably advocate for unreasonable restrictions on food carts:

Specifically, council members are considering imposing street food curfews and wider setbacks from restaurants, stadiums, and schools… Council Member Tim Burgess called the lack of curfew a “huge problem,” adding, “Why wouldn’t we… just say [vendors] can’t operate after 11:00 p.m. or midnight or something?”…
The proposal also replaces a 1,000-foot school setback rule with 200 feet, which a school janitor’s union denounced would be an “absolute nightmare” to clean up after.

I understand the industry interest, but I’m not sure why anyone on the Council would be swayed by these arguments.
The Stranger has a copy of the proposal and reports that a Council vote will likely occur in late July. This legislation is going through the Committee on the Built Environment. Slog super-commenter Fnarf summed it up nicely in a comment, reproduced below the jump because it’s awesome:

I sent this:

Dear Councilmembers,
As a frequent world traveler I have seen an endless series of cities that are more vibrant than Seattle. We like to talk a lot about increasing pedestrian interest but in reality this city works hard to stamp it out wherever it can. Even compared to our West Coast neighbors our downtown blocks are dull and lifeless. Compared to forty years ago, yes, Seattle is “lively”, but compared to LA, San Francisco, Vancouver, or even Portland our town is gray, corporate, and uninviting.

One of the reasons is STREET FOOD. Street food is one of the great joys of urban living. I’ve enjoyed amazing Thai noodles on the street in Portland, fantastic roasted nuts in New York, fish and chips in Liverpool, and absolutely astonishing tacos al pastor in Mexico City. There’s nothing comparable to that here, aside from some of the street fairs. Have you had a slice of Veraci pizza at the Fremont Sunday Market? THAT is what city living is all about.

The most exciting trend in Seattle in the past decade has been the advent of taco trucks. My wife and I gladly drive all the way down to Burien or up to Shoreline to seek out new ones. This is some of the best food in the city, and more than that IT IS A KEY METHOD OF ENTRY INTO THE ECONOMY FOR POOR IMMIGRANTS. Unless you are happy seeing Seattle ossify into a bedroom community for rich white people like yourselves, who drive back and forth to their suburban campus jobs, you need to do everything you can to inject life and culture into Seattle.

I encourage you to pass the most liberal street food ordinance you can come up with. Go ahead, block the sidewalks! Busy sidewalks are GOOD for cities (see the work of William Whyte on this subject). Simplify the permit process.

And especially NO CURFEW. I’m in bed most nights by 9:30, so I don’t care, but there is no reason on earth why food cart vendors themselves can’t decide when a good time to shut up shop is. Late night food is a world tradition, and will actually work to pacify sometimes unruly bar crowds late at night.

Do the decent thing. Say yes to street food.

–Fnarf (Steve Thornton)

102 Replies to “Street Food Measure Draws Complaints”

  1. I’m not seeing the logic behind the curfew either. Isn’t the whole point to get more POSITIVE/legal uses of the streets at night to try and crowd out the negative/illegal?

    1. I think the reason for the curfew goes something like this: “OMG a late night food cart might draw a crowd late at night, who might make noise, therfore disturbing rich condo owners (who want the ‘vibrancy’ of neighborhoods like Belltown without the late night noise)”

  2. If I ran a government transportation agency I’d probably be for unreasonable restrictions on private businesses entering the market.

      1. I think Texas is trying something like that.

        Chicago has sold off its parking meter concession (and got ripped off in the process).

      2. A lot of the US’s early toll roads are privately-owned, including many of the turnpikes starting with the Chicago Skyway and going east. Colorado’s E-470 is owned by a local semi-governmental body that raises most of its money through tolls (apparently that happened because the state and federal governments weren’t willing to build the road).

        Ultimately, whether some cities have been ripped off selling off their infrastructure or not, I think it’s a lot easier for private companies to get pricing right for something like parking than it is for the government. But if a city’s government sold off its residential street parking they might have a political nightmare on their hands, so they’re still stuck subsidizing a lot of parking spaces just around the corner from commercial districts they’ve sold off. So then they introduce permits, which have their own problems… Similarly, a city/state isn’t going to sell off its whole road network, so it’s always stuck building and maintaining roads near toll highways, while trying not to make them useful for bypassing tolls.

    1. Washington looks like it’s about to sell off it’s Liquor business. The first offer, effectively zero, was pretty crummy but the latest offers appear to be much better.

      1. I’m a fan of this idea; liquor isn’t infrastructure.

        For most people, anyway.

  3. I am a restaurant owner and I wholeheartedly support street vendors. While street vendors sell freshly prepared food as I do the similarity between their business and mine ends there. They don’t compete with my product which is a sit down dinner with appetizers and drinks (where we make the highest margin). I do support the same city, county, and state oversight and taxes for street vendors that are currently levied against brick and mortars, particularly in the areas of waste management, compliance with noise ordinances, worker safety, and proper food handling.

    Restaurant owners who feel threatened by this should pay attention, and put up a “street meat” cart in front of their restaurant to catch that business themselves. And stop complaining too :)

    1. Thanks, Jack. It is astonishing how many businesses are all for competition except against themselves. Yours is an enlightened and distinctly un-Seattleite small business opinion.
      Excellent letter from fnarf!

    2. Great post, Jack. The real folks who need to worry about street food are the big fast food chains. People either want to sit down or keep moving.

      1. Hey, a restaurant with a waiting list and a cart out front serving appetizers would get my business. On a nice day, I’d rather block the sidewalk, get a bite to eat and then go in and sit down for a full meal than just stand around.

        Plus the smell of good food out front will draw me in.

      2. I even have an unused patio outside on one of the busiest intersections in Cap Hill. It would be perfect for this. Why am I posted on STB, I should be building a cart instead!

  4. Wait, blocking the sidewalk is good? If the sidewalk has extra width to spare that’s one thing, but not everyone is able to get around obstacles easily.

    Street food won’t save Seattle from becoming “a bedroom community for rich white people”. There’s one thing that can: jobs in Seattle.

      1. Yes, and also increases the velocity of money thereby helping restaurants. Again, not that it helps “fast food” restaurants but sit down establishments have the tremendous advantage of being able to serve alcohol.

      2. Yeah, it’s one job in Seattle, and increases the velocity of money. It’s better than nothing. But service industry is no substitute for physical industries — it depends on them. If those are the only jobs in Seattle then Seattle becomes a bedroom community. Now… Seattle isn’t a bedroom community or a “reverse commute town”, despite claims to this effect by Microsofties. Maybe the writer for the Stranger lives near too many MSFT types on Cap Hill. But street food can’t save it from becoming one. So we shouldn’t be so urgent to give up sidewalk space and reduce mobility for people that have trouble getting around.

  5. Thanks for the alert on this subject- though as has become a habit over thirty years of following media coverage Seattle,I’m waiting to hear the whole story.

    I’ve previously expressed my firm belief that one of the chief benefits of a large amount of attractive legitimate business on the streets at night is a city’s most powerful deterrent to crime. In my lifetime, the increasing emptiness of city streets at night has been much more of a cause than a result of their increasing danger.

    Some of those food stalls at Tukwila International and Mt. Baker LINK stations would make intermodal changes there a lot more comfortable.

    The alleged initiative is all the more puzzling because if Tim Burgess runs for Mayor, he’ll doubtless stress his strong attachment to law and order. If I were running against him, I’d love to be able to have my campaign material juxtapose Tim’s picture with an empty, dangerous CBD, and mine in front of above truck- also the WhereYaAtMatt! wagon, whose gumbo is fantastic.

    Word to the wise, Tim…

    Mark Dublin

    1. Also a legitimate business on the street is another pair of eyes to call the cops when things get rowdy.

  6. I hope this gets resolved based on facts and not emotions or deceit. I like many citizens have little connection to the restaurant business, so I have no idea who’s correct: Is the city’s ordinance balanced? Is it fair to charge trucks the same fees as restaurants or would that kill the food truck industry in its infancy? I hope some journalist who knows the restaurant industry will research its impacts, rather than just making a quick judgement like all the articles I’ve seen so far.

    Jack, thank you for your comment. So far we’ve heard from only one restauranteur, the one who wrote the petition. Without other voices it can give the impression that all retauranteurs feel that way.

    I too have seen street food in other cities and it’s something Seattle needs to encourage. It causes concentrations of pedestrians which make the neighborhood feel more alive and friendly. So maybe an incentive in the form of lower fees is needed to jump-start the industry. (It would have been here all along if it hadn’t been banned.) But at the same time, it’s not fair for the fees to be 90% less and undercut the restaurants.

    A curfew is silly because Seattle needs more places to eat after 10pm, not fewer. I assume the idea behind the curfew is that late-night eaters will get into violent confrontations and shoot each other. But the “eyes on the street” theory says the opposite will be the case: crowds of people buying food act as a deterrent to neighborhood violence. Why should food carts have a curfew if restaurants don’t?

    Another issue is that there’s different kinds of food stands. Some are trucks, some are wheeled carts, and some are wooden booths (kiosks). And tiny take-out restaurants are much the same thing too. Seattle and Portland have mostly trucks, but in Europe kiosks and tiny restaurants are more common. I’m concerned that a proliferation of trucks will be ugly. They can look temporary, makeshift, and automobile-ish. We’re trying to make gasoline vehicles less obtrusive in the city, not more obtrusive. So I hope that some of the other models proliferate too, not just trucks, or that the trucks get nicer looking at least.

    Seattle has a hole in inexpensive takeaway food. There’s a gap between the fast-food restaurants with their high-calorie non-nutritious cuisine, and the sit-down $8-a-plate casual restaurants. Other cities have stands where you can grab a kebab or sandwich or piroshki or curry for $5, without the wait or table. The closest equivalent in Seattle is the pizza slices and pho restaurants.

      1. Maybe more of the restaurants could stay open after 10 so that people could eat there. The city’s open hours have not kept up with its growth.

    1. Many people forget there are entire populations of people, particularly in city neighborhoods, who do not work a M-F 9 to 5. When you get off work at 10pm, it’s hard to get a decent meal ANYWHERE in this town. Thank goodnight for the Night Kitchen. Food carts that have low overhead and therefore can afford to stay open late serve this under-served market.

      The other strange issue with a curfew is it halts commerce at a time when the city and state need every friggin penny. If there are public safety or noise issues, there are plenty of laws on the books that would address them. Let’s not be afraid of something we haven’t done before.

  7. Sometimes I feel like no one in Seattle has ever heard of Portland, Oregon. I know that’s not the case, but it’s just a feeling I have. Why is it that I have yet to hear anyone, on either side of the food cart argument, site statistics from Portland, which has had an active food cart culture for years?

    I’d really like to know the answer: How have food carts affected Portland restaurants?

    1. Actually, Portlanders don’t want Seattleites taking away our food cart business. Please keep street food illegal in Seattle, it creates more tourists for us!

    2. Portland has several areas where they have encouraged rows of street food, most notably at Washington Square. This is an approach that works well in parking lots. If a parking lot owner in a busy neighborhood makes the calculation that renting out a row to food trailers, then this is a good thing.

      Portland has many restaurants. Those that have good food and service do fine. Those that don’t, don’t. Just like everywhere else.

      1. Portland has many restaurants and at least one or two are decent. Portland also has an infestation of food carts which sell the same quality of food as a Portland restaurant (see note about a few being decent) at the same price but force you to eat outside. I’m all for mobile food services but I hope we don’t do it the way Portland has. In Seattle I can go to a Taco truck and get a giant burrito and soda for $5. In Portland I get a tiny chicken sandwich (with candied Meyer lemons no less) for $10. Let’s keep some perspective here, for $10 I can get a sandwich in ANY restaurant. If the mobile food service truck has lower overhead and I have to eat standing up I’d like to pay them less. It works out for everyone.

  8. In SoCal they’re everywhere, and provide daily fare for the trades. We used to call them “roach coaches”…and their food is hit or miss.

    Up here, people seem to think of them as this new, hip thing. Some weeks back the travel reporter for the SeaTimes featured them prominently in her article on a trip to LA; I almost died laughing. I can’t for the life of me understand why people are attracted to these things.

    1. Roach Coaches have been serving suburban light industrial areas for decades. It’s sometimes the only option workers have to bringing their own lunch. It’s almost always the only other option that doesn’t involve trying to drive somewhere in a 1/2 hour lunch break. I don’t think this sort of concession would be a net plus for downtown.

  9. In many parts of the world, street food is set up as a night market, that is a night only thing. I miss being able to go out at 10 pm and have a quick, affordable, and delicious meal without resorting to junk food restaurants or pricey full-service restaurants, like I did when I lived in Bangkok. For the most part, there is no regulation. They just set up on the sidewalk in the evening as people get off from work and stay there late into the night, long past midnight. They use two wheeled carts, fold up tables and stackable chairs, never the big trucks. The food is always fresh. If they aren’t, they quickly go out of business.

    We also own a food business, although a “quick-service” type in the suburbs. No restaurant (or small business) can stand alone and no one’s going to eat at the same place every day. People want variety. In fact, the presence of other restaurants would attract more people to the area, increasing exposure and potential customers. One day, I might have the street cart. Another day I might get something next door.

  10. Washington State is a property tax based state. Food Trucks, thanks primarily to Timmy of Mukilteo, are able to skip out on paying property taxes, which is not only unfair to the brick-and-mortar restaurants, it will kill municipalities slowly, given how much commercial space is now being used by restaurants in most cities.

    1. Or, on the other hand, maybe it won’t.

      As other have said “street activity” draws people, especially pedestrians — which are far, far, more useful to businesses than motorists. By enlivening a neighborhood, food stands/trucks/whatever seem as likely to help nearby traditional restaurants than to hurt them (“the rising tide lifts all boats”, that kind of thing), and their effect will be even more beneficial for other businesses, and often for the general atmosphere.

      There’s always going to be a need for some limits, but it’s in neither the city’s nor the populace’s interest to let them be drawn by whiny and short-sighted restauranteurs…

  11. Because of the weather, you can’t really enjoy “street food” outdoors most of the time.

    The best equivalent is the typical mall food court…such as that at Southcenter.

    I go there all the time, and there is fantastic food to be had for under $10.

    1. Good, so then no one has anything to worry about b/c the market won’t support them. John says so.

    2. You know the food carts in Portland seem to do just fine in spite of having similar weather to Seattle. Maybe Portlanders are just less afraid of getting wet?

    3. I guess all those restaurants with outdoor seating are retiring them because nobody wants to eat outside in Seattle. Not. We’re just entering a four-month period when you can eat outside most days. Just because the sun doesn’t shine reliably every day here doesn’t mean it doesn’t shine, and if it’s not shining today people will just go out to eat tomorrow.

  12. I think this is all about Burgess sucking up to restaurant owners in hopes of getting in their wallets for 2013. Those folks are probably still miffed about the parking rate increases.

    1. Is that entirely correct? I thought every establishment that served alcohol on premise was required to also serve food in Washington State. Or does the Hot Dog Cart meet that requirement?

      1. I believe you are correct Anc. According to the website for the Last Supper Club; “True to our name, LSC also offers a great menu.” My understanding is that your food business must equal a certain percentage of your alcohol sales in order to keep your license. The rules are slightly different for beer & wine vs hard liquor sales.

      2. The food requirement was lifted some time ago. A friend of mine started Barca entirely because that requirement was lifted. That place has no kitchen even, though I think they sell peanuts or something.

      3. They’re called “taverns” and “cocktail lounges” in the law. Taverns sell only beer and wine. Cocktail lounges sell hard liquor and have to sell food too.

      4. I’ll readily admit to being way out of date on liquor laws since it’s been decades since I’ve been “carded”. I know restaurant laws have been in a state of flux but in looking for some RCW confirmation (that’s really what’s needed in these “religious” matters) I came across this from Callahan Law

        The age limit to sell alcohol in a convenience or grocery store is 18 years old. The age limit to serve alcohol in a bar or restaurant is 21 years old, also the legal age to consume alcohol.

        I thought Ronnie had created a national “age limit” of 21 years. Is what I thought an urban legend (i.e. it’s OK if I have an easily forged note from my parents to buy alcohol) actually true? While I generally agree that was a good thing I’ve always found it hard to reconcile the idea that we find it OK to conscript (voluntary implies you have another reasonable choice) people into the military but decide they are too young to vote or buy a product legal for older people. I’m actually psyched to try this. My son is 20 and doesn’t drink, yeah… I know, you’re say “you think he doesn’t drink”. I want to see what it takes for Safeway to sell him a box of wine; hand written note, me standing there to vouch that it’s his credit card but my boozes, verbal claim from the 18 year old “it’s not for me”…

      5. I think you’re misinterpreting what you quoted, Bernie. An 18 year old grocery clerk can ring up your purchase of alcohol if you yourself are over 21. That grocery clerk cannot themselves buy alcohol.

        I’m not sure how it works when you and your son are both standing there, and you’re buying the booze, but your son is wielding the credit card. He certainly wouldn’t be able to buy the booze on his own with a note from his parent or to claim that it’s not for him.

  13. This is just crazy. There’s no way Portland is more lively than Seattle. There’s not one street corner in all of Oregon even half as lively as, even say, 50th and University, which isn’t one of the most lively in Seattle but is significantly more lively than anything in Portland.

    San Francisco has a handful of streetcars for the entire city. It’s more lively than Seattle for the same reason Seattle is more lively than Portland (and the reason Paris is more lively than SF): it’s more dense.

    Street food has nothing to do with it.

    understand the industry interest, but I’m not sure why anyone on the Council would be swayed by these arguments.

    The City Council might because restaurants pay rent (which means property taxes) and street vendors don’t. This would mean less revenue for the city, if it reduced rent on restaurant spaces (and of course it would, that’s econ 101).

    I’m not totally against street carts (I can imagine them being a nuisance if they stay out all night,etc.) but saying that some how they make a city more lively is insipid. And claiming that they would have no revenue impact on the city’s coffers is naive without some sort of study to show.

    1. I believe in NY street vendors are actually sidewalk vendors for the most part because there simply just aren’t a lot of open parking spots. The vendors pay a pretty penny in license fees just like a cab driver does. I don’t see street food cutting into restaurant business. Anything with cloth napkins is an entirely different market. As for fast food maybe some but carts still don’t offer a place to sit down out of the weather or the selection. They would also have the chance to expand their business by operating a cart(s) which is not only revenue but advertising (like Bite of Seattle except year round). The city should do a study and I’d expect there are a number of pier cities that information would be available from. Green grocery carts are a different beast since they are aimed at take home food which is in direct competition to traditional grocery stores. I still think there is a place for them but the restrictions would have to be more broad.

    2. “This would mean less revenue for the city, if it reduced rent on restaurant spaces (and of course it would, that’s econ 101).”

      Only if your Econ 101 stopped at Mercantilism without making it to Adam Smith or more importantly David Ricardo. Economics is not a zero-sum game. Ever heard of expanding the pie instead of just trying to carve out a bigger slice?

      1. Only if your Econ 101 stopped at Mercantilism without making it to Adam Smith or more importantly David Ricardo. Economics is not a zero-sum game. Ever heard of expanding the pie instead of just trying to carve out a bigger slice?

        I have a degree in economics, I don’t need a lesson. You’re moving into where economic gives policy recommendations.

        The pie is only good for the city’s revenue pool if it results in increased tax revenue. Just increasing economic activity but not tax receipts isn’t necessarily good for the city. It doesn’t need to be a zero-sum game to there to be losers.

      2. Well yes… as my degree is in Poli-Econ, of course I’m going to be talking about applied economics.

        Activity feeds on activity. There is a reason you have ‘Car Cities’ where multiple dealers cluster together. The close proximity draws in people from outside areas as they know that at the car city there will a plethora of choices. According to your ‘Econ 101’ logic Dealerships would want to be as far apart from each other as possible so as not to steal business from each other.

      3. Same logic applies to other economic activities. If I know that at X spot there are a host of dining and drinking options I am more likely to want to go there.

      4. This has nothing to do with what I was saying. Martin said:

        I’m not sure why anyone on the Council would be swayed by these arguments.

        Martin strongly implied that the arguments in favor of curfews, set backs etc, were entirely pro-restaurant business and that the council should not be swayed by them. My point is that part of the council’s job is to ensure public safety, cleanliness and revenue production. I’m sure all motorists would be interested in dropping the gas tax, but the state would be irresponsible to do so without studying the impacts.

      5. Yes it does, as it lies at the heart of what you are statement. You made the claim as that allowing more eating options would NECESSARILY cause existing eateries in the area to lose business, thus depriving the city of revenue, the Council has sound reasons to support these amendments. You then tried to give this blatant protectionism legitimacy by making an appeal to authority (‘…that’s Econ 101…’). That IS NOT Econ 101 and as an econ major, you should know that.

      6. You made the claim as that allowing more eating options would NECESSARILY cause existing eateries in the area to lose business, thus depriving the city of revenue, the Council has sound reasons to support these amendments.

        That’s not what I said. I said that if allowing more eating options would cause existing eateries to lose business, that would be depriving the city of revenue. That’s what “might” means. It does not mean “necessary”.

        It only takes if to give the city council a sufficient reason to be against the creation. If it’s simply not true, then go for street food.

        This is what I said more clearly. “The City Council would have a valid reason to oppose street food if it meant lower rents for businesses and thus less revenue for the city.” That’s basic stuff, I can’t believe how confused it has made you.

      7. Wait, so now you said ‘might’ and not ‘(and of course it would, that’s econ 101)’… oh okay, sorry to have misread you then.

      8. I can see how it was not clear, the “of course it would, that’s econ 101”
        was modifying the first clause of that sentence.

      9. If you say so. Although I’m having a hard time seeing how the sentence works that way: “This would mean less revenue for the city (and of course it would, that’s econ 101).” Where is the of course coming from? Why is it Econ 101? No matter how I read it the whole thing is predicated on the idea that increased options mean less revenue for Brick and Mortar eateries (which pay property tax), which is NOT Econ 101.

      10. Now you’re picking and choosing words, that’s an entire sentence, you can’t take just parts of it.

        How do you like it when it’s done to you?

        No matter how I read it the whole thing is predicated on the idea that increased options … is NOT Econ 101.

      11. Roger. Think I’ve laid it out as completely as possible anyway.

      12. Just to be clear, my point was about whether the city council could have reason to believe the argument. Matthew completely misunderstood the point and dwelled on an entirely minor grammar point.

      1. I’m really not that against street food. I was half joking, and nothing gives you a license to call me or anyone else filthy names.

        Still, bad arguments are a pet peeve of mine. The argument that street food makes streets more lively is nonsense. Tokyo, Singapore, Montreal, Vancouver, and London, etc. all have lively streets with significantly stricter rules against street food than, say, Portland. And it’s ridiculous to say that Portland has more lively streets than Seattle. There’s not a single street there as lively as say, 50th and the Ave, and that’s nothing compared to first and pine.

        Also, I think Martin’s implication that the arguments against street food are purely in the interest of restaurant owners to be immensely naive.

      2. Excuse me for butting in but I fail to read Andrew’s statements as an objection to street food. I’ve eaten at a number of “street food” places in Seattle and in Bangkok and for the most part people find a place to sit and eat or stand and eat but not walking, even while carrying it to their office. Andrew’s specific objection was eating while walking, which BTW is considered rude in a few Asian cultures, like Japan. That hasn’t stopped street food from flourishing there. And eating food on transit is prohibited for a good reason.

        Maximus Minimus at 2nd and Pike: they had mini tables hanging off street trees.

        Marination Mobile, Where Ya At Matt: people sat in the park next door, on whatever they can find as a seat, even the curb.

        Any typical Bangkok night market: plastic seats and fold up tables on the sidewalk.

    3. Nothing to stop the City from enacting a license fee or tax that would equalize the revenue value to the city between brick and mortar stores and mobile stores.

      Being middle aged and having experienced both urban and suburban life, things like quiet and tranquility as well as a desire to not have people loitering near your place of rest is a reasonable value to many people. So, in some respects, a curfew is reasonable in certain circumstances. In Chicago, there are food carts that roam the streets. I don’t know the extent of regulation for them. I have seen them around late at night but only on major streets e.g. near train stations.

      For Seattle, I would suggest that areas like Broadway, the Ave, 45th in Wallingford, and other neighborhood village areas should be open to carts in the commercially zoned areas but restricted on neighborhood streets past a certain hours (I’d say 10 pm). I also think Link Stations and transit centers should be zoned for all night activity.

      Also, I think the janitor’s union has a legitimate point. The waste from these carts is an externality that they would have to deal with.

    4. “The City Council might because restaurants pay rent (which means property taxes) and street vendors don’t.”

      For decades street food was banned because it supposedly makes the place look untidy and uninviting to tourists. Gradually that’s been loosened for the few hotdog stands in nightlife areas and taco trucks in residential areas that we do have. The fact that the city council is even considering allowing them citywide shows they’ve changed their mind about them, and that the arguments that street food enliven the streetscape hold sway. So they may well do it regardless of the impact on property taxes.

      1. The sad thing is Seattle actually used to have quite a few food carts. I remember buying espresso from the original Monorail Espresso and Cornish pasties from another cart under the old Monorail terminal at Westlake.

        Then at some point the City regulated pretty much all of the carts out of existence.

      2. Chris, I remember that time too. I was watching old Almost Live clips on YouTube the other day and there was one about the last street corner in downtown Seattle without a coffee cart. I have often wondered if Starbucks wasn’t responsible for the bans on food carts, now that there’s a Starbucks on every corner instead of a coffee cart. Because, it never seemed like we were drowning in unsightly waste back when there were coffee carts everywhere.

        Also, how awesome would it have been to go to a high school with a food cart across the street? When I was in high school (I went to Nathan Hale), we used to have to drive to the nearest fast food place if we wanted something other than the nasty cafeteria food or a sack lunch from home (or walk to the Circle K for convenience store food). A taco truck would have made a FORTUNE at my high school.

      3. Proximity to a HS was a specific objection to food carts because of the trash it would supposedly generate. I think the better solution would to be what WWU does in renting out provided stalls with power, water etc. right outside the Viking Union.

    5. I have a great friend in Portland and I visit every now and then. Portland has great, great little niche areas where there are clusters of real restaurants.

      When I hang out there we usually get some GroupOns and dine at these places getting plates of food and beer for little money.

      We have never ever done the following:

      1) Gotten on a bus or train to go anywhere
      2) Purchased street food

  14. When I lived in Portland in the late 90’s, I loved going to the food trucks for lunch. I don’t know what it’s like nowadays, but back then, the trucks weren’t really on the sidewalk, they were congregated in parking lots, or setback from the sidewalk in Pioneer Courthouse Square. I would love to see the food truck atmosphere here in Seattle, but I wouldn’t want them right on the sidewalks. Aren’t there enough parking lots, whether in downtown, Belltown, Pioneer Square, or Capitol Hill that they could use? As for the curfew, where the hell did that idea come from? Pioneer Square and Belltown, I’m sure the food trucks could be busy on a Friday/Saturday night all the way ’til sunrise during the summer. Capitol Hill, too. But, I don’t see a desire for them in say, Wallingford or Greenwood. Let a group of trucks have a parking lot in Ballard or Fremont, have each of them pay a rental fee for that space and I’m sure the owner of the lot would make more money overall than just having a few cars parked there during the day.

    Actually, looking at the food booths at Folklife this weekend, and the upcoming Bite of Seattle, quite a few restaurants already have the portable cooking equipment that they would need to open up in a parking lot. So, why limit it to only trucks? Go ahead and have a mix of trucks and booths in whatever parking lot is available to them.

  15. I’m not necessarily going to choose a side here but I think people have a false sense of what food trucks can actually do for neighborhoods.

    The reality is that most will probably locate in already vibrant neighborhoods (Fremont, Ballard, Capitol Hill) not places that are currently dead at night. Street food is much more a result of successful urban environments not a catalyst of it.

    Also, I think we should indeed be wary of the city providing subsidized space for street food, which is competition for brick and mortar. Unless spaces are auctioned off to the highest bidder then we could actually add to the vacant commercial problem we’re already seeing around the city.

    When talking about Portland, remember that the vast majority of street food in Portland is on PRIVATE parking lots. There is nothing stopping current property owners with vacant lots from doing this right now. The biggest issue is just the heavy restrictions on what food vendors can serve.

    1. When talking about Portland, remember that the vast majority of street food in Portland is on PRIVATE parking lots. There is nothing stopping current property owners with vacant lots from doing this right now. The biggest issue is just the heavy restrictions on what food vendors can serve.

      I wonder why they don’t? There are a lot of surface parking lots on the outskirts of downtown and even a couple pretty centrally located. I wonder why there are no food carts there?

      1. The lot on 2nd & Pike would be an excellent spot for a Portland-like cluster of food carts.

    2. Good point about the type of food being more important than where they are allowed.

  16. Anything that encourages citizens to mingle, eat and create a vibrant downtown scene will benefit ALL businesses in Seattle, including brick and mortar restaurants. As a matter of fact, the more choices consumers have, the more people will come down town to just “eat”. It will be a win-win situation for everyone. Make it happen and bag all those silly restrictions!

  17. Someone on the Slog made an interesting comment about tying this into expanding outdoor seating areas for brick and mortar eating establishments.

    I whole heartily agree with that.

    1. That’s a great idea. There’s really no reason to be stingy on the outdoor seating at restaurants.

  18. Restaurants just need to suck it up, if food carts are going to put your crappy joint out of business maybe you are doing it wrong.

    I don’t think there should be any setbacks in the rules.

    I’d go one step further and compare the Seattle rules to the Portland rules. In particular I’d like to know if it is easier to get a permit for a cart in Portland and what, if anything, the city does to encourage the cart clusters in parking lots.

    1. Oh I’ll further point out that all of the carts in Portland hardly seem to have harmed local restaurants.

  19. Roger Valdez over on Crosscut delves into the food cart issue:

    What’s the latest ‘big idea’? And does it solve anything for Seattle?
    Consider the city’s intense discussion of street food. Could we just be trying to promote something here because it has proved popular elsewhere? Some careful reflection may help us determine whether we are really on to something that will make a difference.

    The take home message I get from reading the article is, “street food is the outcome of good land use and planning. If we get density right we’ll get more street food. When’s the last time you saw a cluster of taco trucks in Laurelhurst or Magnolia?” Also, the type of built environment will dictate the type and quality of food vendors. There’s not a big gain in replacing drive through with drive too.

    1. I see ice cream trucks in those neighborhoods… It’s all in the matter of knowing your market.

  20. It just occurred to me in writing a comment at SLOG on this topic.

    Doesn’t support for Street Food violate some of the prime tenants of mass transit and STB’s rail based social engineering?

    I mean, what is street food. It’s food that’s sold on the street…but it’s also sold from an independently guided motorized vehicle that uses a street!!

    That is the beauty of independently guided mobile transit run by private entities — it is flexible. It can bring choice food right to where people want to eat it.

    If Sound Transit developed Street Food, it would arrive in 30 years, and require cordoned off “Street Food Zones” built out of concrete…all the same shape and color. The only way to access it would be through special purpose Transit Shuttle that would be built on a line half a mile away from the existing light rail. Getting to this new train would require a Food-Tran pass at which point you would be shuttled around to each vendor.

    For every dollar you spend at one food stand, it would be subdivided amongst all the other vendors.

    So, actually, I guess I do support Street Food.

    Let the trucks roll…wherever the people want them to!

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