The Food Truck Placement Issue Visualized and Mapped

Map of downtown Raleigh with surface lots is an academic project created by the Downtown Living Advocates’ Streetscape Committee and Andrew Campbell of NC State.
Click the image for large or here for a full size.

In case you haven’t been following closely, the last time the food truck issue has been looked at by the city was at the Law and Public Safety Committee’s July 26th meeting. (meeting minutes here) No recommendation was made by that committee and it will next be discussed at their August 30th meeting. Once they make a recommendation it goes to the city council where they can approve it or pass it along for more review.

One of the restrictions that is being discussed is for the food trucks to be no less than 100 feet away from a restaurant’s front door. This restriction probably comes from a few restaurant owners that are against food trucks in downtown Raleigh. While I don’t agree with some of the arguments made by these owners, I feel there is a way to compromise in order for us to finally have the food trucks up and running.

I’ve modified a map of downtown Raleigh in an attempt to visualize what the 100 foot rule may look like. The map above shows a few things.

  • The purple area is Downtown Raleigh
  • The yellow areas show surface parking lots
  • The red areas represent where a food truck cannot operate under the 100 foot rule. These are 100 foot radius circles with the center being over a restaurant’s front door

The red areas’ locations are approximate and not every downtown restaurant is shown on the map, rather a majority is represented as I can still make my point with a few missing. Click on the image above to see a larger view or the link below it for a full size image for larger screens.

The Compromise

First off, I think the map is pretty powerful in showing the amount of surface parking we have in downtown Raleigh. I’d love to dive into this topic but I’m going to save it for another time. Instead, the point of overlaying the surface parking with the red circles shows us something else completely. There is a perfect opportunity, in my opinion, to have this food truck issue closed and all businesses can operate fairly.

The 100 foot rule is perfectly adequate to give the restaurants some breathing room from the trucks they are against. If you look at the map, the two sections of downtown with the most activity, Glenwood South and Fayetteville Street, are naturally buffered from any available spaces for food trucks to park. Restaurants claim it is unfair competition since they pay high rent and more overhead. The way I see it, those higher rents are getting these restaurants prime lots in downtown, which the food trucks can’t park in with this 100 foot rule.

With the map above, you can also see which areas have no food at all, mainly the government district north of the State Capitol. Food trucks can then provide a convenient service to a workforce that currently drives to get their lunches if they didn’t bring it with them.

The next issue that has been brought up is the affect of food trucks on traffic flow. The high amount of surface parking presents an opportunity for re-use and for us to energize these static, barren spaces. Food trucks can be kept off streets and parked on lots rather than in parallel parking spaces. They bring people to them and therefore the lots will have a new type of use by the pedestrian that it hasn’t had before. Collaboration between private lot owners, public lots and food trucks owners can work out a system, perhaps in the permit which they need to pay for anyway, so that certain spaces are designated for the trucks. Imagine private lot owners competing for food trucks to park in their lots because it gives them more exposure and more regular parking revenue from the trucks. It may just encourage some to clean up those desolate looking lots.

Some more official form of this map may end up being made by the city, as they are discussing perhaps raising the distance to 150 feet. According to the minutes of the July 26th Law and Public Safety meeting:

Chairman Baldwin asked:

7. What are the implications of an increase in the distance requirement from 100 to 150 feet?

Senior Planner Crane stated it is another 50 feet of distance. This was sorted out at the public hearing in April. He pointed out if you take this question with question #8 what are the implications of an increase in the distance requirement from residential areas to 200 feet? You will find along very narrow corridors like Glenwood South they will have a much smaller narrower area to locate these food trucks.

Assistant City Manger Howe stated they have not done enough specific analysis to see exactly how many spaces this may allow. It is possible to do this but would take some time. Ms. Baldwin asked how long it would take to do an analysis. Mr. Crane stated they would need a week to ten days. Mr. Howe stated they would still have to identify where the door is. A lot of the work can be done on GIS but you cannot tell on GIS where the door is. The group discussed this issue extensively as it relates to distance, mistakes that could be made, area sizes, doorway identification, industrial zoning, etc.

I haven’t seen this data yet so for now, we have the map that I put together in just twenty minutes. A more official map, I’m hoping, will help decision makers visualize the food trucks in downtown and help bring this case to a close. A compromise is all we need.

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  1. Thanks for posting Leo! Great programming conceptual. Let me know if you need any AI or GIS docs from my presentation for modifying for future maps.

  2. Great work. As you point out, this map shows there is a way to make this work. I like your point about how how the 100′ requirement can be viewed as the alterative to paying higher rent for premium spots downtown. FWIW, I would point out that according to the draft ordinance, food trucks could park closer than 100′ if they get the permission of the restaurant. While I imagine many restaurants would not agree, I think there are some that will which will open up location options even more.

    Well done with the map!

  3. Excellent point! Areas along West Street (late night), and Salisbury/N Blount Streets (mid-day) among others would seem like excellent locations for Food Trucks in Downtown Raleigh. I suggest you send the map along to selected City Councilors, who I believe are looking for a compromise solution.

  4. Hey Leo, great work! How hard would it be to show a version of this on a street map (rather than the aerial view), that would only show the streets and the ‘blocked areas’? Might be worthwhile to have several different versions of this map for different types of visualization.

  5. Manuel, that shouldn’t be hard to create. I have the layers of the food truck areas (red) saved and they just sit on top of the downtown Raleigh map. I could just swap the downtown map with another and as long as the ratios are the same, it would line up nicely.

    I’m not quite sure I follow what you mean by “street map”. Could you share an example?

  6. QUICK! Somebody tell City Council the RESTAURANTS are even too close to each other! How will the free market survive!?

  7. Why is the McDonald’s across from Fletcher circled. Fast food joints are stores, not restaurants.

  8. Great job! I would suggest however that private and public parking the clearly differentiated. The proposed law only allows parking on private property. I think that you would find that there are far fewer opportunities for trucks to operate in downtown raleigh when taking into account only private property. But this map really is what has been missing in this discussion.

  9. Now we’re are getting some where!
    It’s nice to step back and see what I have asked the city to define over and over again. This gives a good understanding on how we can “All just get along”. Parking lots for trucks are a good thing for all parts of RALEIGH from health inspections to creating a new downtown street culture. I still feel that the permits should be split in two for downtown and private property coverage for city wide. But that’s just me.

    I know that not everyone is going to 100% happy with the current plans but I can only hope this comes to a head soon for it has been hard on us to continue to do what we are passionate about. Thanks for putting this together and your support!

  10. I do wonder why food trucks apparently represent unbeatable and unfair competition to restaurants when I look at all those overlapping red circles. Surely, another restaurant within 100 feet is just as ‘bad’ for business.

  11. JK – Your’s is a popular albeit flawed arguement. Of course a direct competitor opening next door or across the street would be bad for business. The difference is that competitor would need to take the same risk and make the same substantial investment the first business did. Making it an open and fair competition. That is a big difference and a real issue the city is grappling with. Of course the ccity could allow it but they do it at their own peril. Just check out the Wake Forest Coffee Co. facebook page for aan example of this.

  12. Mark Says:

    “Of course a direct competitor opening next door or across the street would be bad for business”

    That statement in no, shape, form or fashion is as definitive as you suggest it is. Thousands of business models thrive on consumers having multiple options in close proximity. It is much more likely that for every one customer a restaurant could lose to a competitor, two new customers would choose to eat in that area for having multiple food options.

  13. Tony –

    You are correct in that it is not as definitive as you took it to be. My point is that it is a flawed arguement to suggest food trucks should be allowed to park next to a B&M just because other B&M can open up next door. The point is a competing B&M would need to make the same investment and have the same risk. The food truck would be there essentially for free with no skin in the game. Expecting free realestate to operate your business comes with strings attached (like distance restrictions).

  14. Nothing’s for free. We’ve invested over $3800 in truck repairs in the last mnth. We pay $1000s every month in taxes. And we pay $100’s per wk in materials.

    Do b&Ms pay more and invest more? Yes. But they also can serve more. I’m lucky to be able to service 100 per lunch.

    Nobody would be working for free.

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