Seattle’s pride in being a vibrant urban metropolis is tainted by the fact that our street food scene is limited to near-rogue efforts threatened by aggressive health department enforcement. Due to a number of strict regulations imposed in the 1980’s, Seattle’s street food has been reduced to less than 10 trucks and a battalion of hot dog vendors. But in the last year, due to consistent pressure from citizens and media outlets, the City of Seattle has finally decided to reform it’s anachronistic street food system in order to spur economic vitality and pedestrian-friendly streets.
At December’s Capitol Hill Community Council meeting, Gary Johnson from Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development, filled us in on some of the specific reforms that City Hall hopes to implement in the coming year.
While it won’t make the streets a free-for-all to any entrepreneur with ambitions, it will be a huge step forward in bringing us more in line with our annoyingly cool sister to the South.
Here are the main changes being proposed:
Eliminate required 200-foot park setback. This would be dropped as vending has been shown to activate and improve park safety. This is also means that the failed Wandering Wieners as sole vendor in Cal Anderson park was likely the last of its kind. Set “clear path of travel” standards for carts on sidewalks. Replace maximum cart dimensions with standards to ensure clear sidewalks for persons with disabilities and easy access to area business. Create street use permit for mobile trucks. Currently only trucks serving construction sites are regulated [outside of private property]. This would expand the definition [of food carts] to allow SDOT to issue street use permits where mobile tucks propose to operate from the right-of-way, similar to sidewalk cafe or other street use permits. Set standards for design, litter pickup, and hours of operation. Allow SDOT to set guidelines for cart dimensions and design, and standards for trash clean up, and hours of operation consistent with area businesses. Setback from restaurants. Require food vendors to be 50′ from adjacent food service, unless with written permission from the business. Improve notice requirements for the public and area businesses. Require public notices of pending applications for mobile food vendors in the right-of-way and require food vending applicant to notify all adjacent businesses in person. Mobile vending from the street. Allow SDOT to designate public places (such as Occidental or Westlake Parks, or on-street locations) for mobile vending
Although some of these things don’t sound particularly food cart friendly, I think the most important things are that SDOT could designate specific food vending areas, where any mobile food vendor, push cart of truck, could apply for use. This is very similar to the street food squares in Portland. Also freeing up the cart dimensions would allow vendors to have push carts that meet their food handling needs, instead of a standard size that really only works for a few items (namely hot dogs).
During his presentation, Johnson consistently referred to Portland and their success with food vending. He specifically mentioned an interesting micro-enterprise program in PDX that he hopes to introduce up here. The program, run by Hacienda, helps immigrant families start mobile food vending services as a way to increase economic stability (more on that at their website).
Johnson wasn’t sure on the timeline for changes to actually get implemented but said they are working to have things finalized in the next few months. If you have any questions or comments about food vending reform, send them to Marshall Foster, Office of Policy and Management, or Gary Johnson, Department of Planning and Development.