I love a food truck. I think it’s also fair to say that the DC region as a whole loves its food trucks. It’s like street food, but more trustworthy because it comes from a branded, often punny, metal box truck. With popularity of food trucks and fight for curbside uses (e.g parking) in prime locations, many jurisdictions have created special regulations and programs to manage how food trucks use the curbside parking. But as I was joining my fellow Nspiregreeners to flock to the DC Empanada truck (best empanadas in the District, btw) at Franklin Park, I noticed a few externalities of how these food trucks operate.
- Compacted Soils– This is my biggest concern. Food trucks often set up shop along a Franklin Park as shown in the photo below. People wait on the grass in the shaded areas that are within earshot of the trucks. In addition, people take short cuts through the grass to get to their favorite truck. With all of this foot traffic, the soils in this park near the food trucks is compacted. When soil gets to this extent of compaction, the shallow roots of grasses become starved for growing space, nutrients, and water and begin to die off. The scuffing of feet on the compacted soil loosens the top layers and soil sediment then blows in the wind or is washed into stormwater runoff. During rain, the rest of the compacted soil acts almost similar to impervious surfaces, where runoff can sheet across without being absorbed. If the storm is long enough and it is absorbed, the area becomes a mud pit and a potential tripping hazard when it dries again.
Solution: Temporary waiting areas, with lighter touch on the ground or those that aerate the soil while people use them. These can be formalized waiting areas sectioned off by using ropes or guideposts.
- Crowded sidewalks or inadequate public space– Many times when trucks set up along streets there is inadequate sidewalk or public space to accommodate the lines of people and crowds waiting for their food. People that need to use the sidewalk to pass either must cross or zigzag their way through the crowds and lines. This impedes pedestrian flow and accessibility.
Solution: Again, temporary waiting areas sectioned off by using ropes or guideposts can help guide people to wait in designated areas and leave the sidewalks clearer.
- Noise pollution – Some food trucks run nice and quiet, but others with on-board generators sound like a continuous jack hammer that resonates across blocks. Even the crowds of people, at peak times, can produce noise pollution in otherwise low volume areas. These areas can then run up against opposition because they become a nuisance to residents and other businesses.
Solution: The potential solution to this could be one of two things- require trucks to operate below a certain decibel reading and/or provide temporary noise screening walls or vegetation against the trucks.
- Lack of Shade – Unless it’s the first warm day after a stretch of winter weather, most people want to stand in the shade when waiting for their food. The trucks themselves only shade the person ordering outside. If the trucks are popular, the lines can stretch into public space or down a sidewalk.
Solution: The solution could be pretty easy- temporary umbrellas or shade structures or enhance the environment. If umbrellas or shade structures, they could be branded for the BID, neighborhood, or supplied by the truck itself. Increasing tree canopies would help offset any air quality issues and improve stormwater quality if designed to capture runoff.
- Lack of Seating – In many cases, the public spaces do not have adequate seating to accommodate those that wish to stay outside with coworkers or friends on nice days instead of heading indoors for a SDL (sad desk lunch). Often times seating is limited or unavailable in these cases, forcing customers to sit on the grass (not ideal) or go back to the office and fall prey to the better tasting SDL.
Solution: The solution is pretty obvious, temporary seating, but these could be done as more exciting installations of placemaking and usable art. The Seattle Design Festival hosts a design in public events that encourage people to interact with art and installations.
Photo Credit: Trevor Dykstra
As with any project or impact to our transportation system or land use, thoughtful planning can avoid the impacts on the environment and public space. With a little art added into the mix the result can be a unique and attractive space that draws people and encourages sustained activity.
Christine E. Mayeur, AICP is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and hobbies, interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grassroots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems and environmental solutions that meet the needs of all users.