Food Trucks Start Operating in Downtown Raleigh

Food Truck signs in Raleigh

This week, a six-month pilot program starts for having food trucks in and around downtown Raleigh. This means that the trucks can operate outside of just events. There are four areas for the trucks to set up at including:

  • South State Street near the NC DMV along New Bern Avenue
  • Polk Street near the state government
  • South Bloodworth near the Pink Building
  • Harrington Street near HQ Raleigh

The hours for the trucks to be here are between 10am and 3pm. On First Fridays, they are allowed out there until 8pm.

The food truck debate really does put our public spaces, more specifically the public on-street parking spaces, into view. Parking, and the threat of reducing it, gets emotions running. In my opinion, these designated food truck areas provide a greater public good then a few more parking spaces. They support a diverse of uses, especially a use that provides to pedestrians in an urban area rather than vehicles in an urban area.

Skepticism over food trucks isn’t new in Raleigh. The City of Raleigh Museum has a good blog post about the debate over ice cream trucks in Raleigh during the 1960s.

Before the modern food truck, the ice cream truck fought for the ability to sell in Raleigh. The main points of contention were child safety and littering. City officials and parents argued that ice cream trucks were a hazard to the community and posed a threat to children. Like food trucks, ice cream trucks divided the community.

*Not Jumping for Joy: Raleigh’s Contentious Relationship with Ice Cream Trucks

Are food trucks really an issue or is Raleigh just being Raleigh?

Hopefully, the pilot program goes off well and more food truck areas can be added to the list.

Municipography, Food Trucks and Raleigh Bikeshare


Municipography is a summary of current issues going through the Raleigh City Council and other municipal departments in the city. The point is to try to deliver any video, photos, and text associated with the discussions happening at City Hall or elsewhere. Since this is a downtown Raleigh blog, the focus is on the center of the city.

No embedded videos this week as for some reason, the city’s streaming video service is auto-playing the videos. I’m not into that.

Two long-talked topics were approved at this week’s city council meeting. The food truck debate has been a long one and a new pilot program will be rolled out to see how they operate on public property in and near downtown. Also, Raleigh will get its first bike share system in the coming years.

Food trucks

To watch/hear the discussion, click here.

The latest in the food truck saga is over the mobile food businesses operating in the public right-of-way. The plan is to designate five “zones” where the trucks can operate during the lunchtime hours. (10am-3pm) First Fridays will extend those hours to 8pm.

The five locations include:

  • The Warehouse District
  • Polk Street near the State Government Center
  • South State Street near the NC DMV
  • Bloodworth Street between Martin and Davie
  • The northern end of Moore Square

At this time, the Moore Square zone was dropped due to all the construction from the GoRaleigh Transit Station and Moore Square renovation.

The plan with the four zones passed unanimously and the new food truck pilot could be in place in 2-3 months.

Raleigh Bike share
To watch the video, click here and jump to around the 48th minute.

We talked about bike share in Raleigh recently and after a work session earlier in the day, the council decided to vote on it.

The plan was approved after a few brief comments. While councilors recognized that the city has needs outside of funding a bike share, the opportunity to have 80% of the installation costs covered by a federal grant was one they felt had to be taken. There was also lots of interest from the private sector to sponsor the system and the bike community was very vocal about their support.

“It’s up to you guys to use the system,” said Councilor Thompson. After three year, the system will be evaluated. It will most likely take two years to finalize the details and roll out the bike share system.

Municipography, Food Trucks Approved in Downtown Raleigh

Municipography is a summary of current issues going through the Raleigh City Council and other municipal departments in the city. The point is to try to deliver any video, photos, and text associated with the discussions happening at City Hall or elsewhere. Since this is a downtown Raleigh blog, the focus is on the center of the city.

Food Trucks Approved With A 6-2 Vote

The Raleigh City Council has now approved the operation of food trucks in the city with a list of restrictions. Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin presented the issue as it left last week’s Law and Public Safety Committee but proposing an amendment to change the 1am time limit back to 3am. The reasoning was to be more consistent with the push carts that currently are allowed to sell food until 3am. A list of some of the major rules are:

  • Food trucks are allowed on private property only, no public right of way unless it’s a special event.
  • A 10pm time limit is in effect when around residential areas.
  • A food truck maximum is three per one acre lot or larger. It’s less with smaller lots.
  • A lot permit ($74) and a food truck permit ($150) must be obtained from the lot owner and food truck owner each year.
  • Ordinance goes into effect on October 1st, 2011 to allow time to create a manual for those seeking the permits.

Councilor Baldwin also proposed that at six months, a report be presented to the council about how the food trucks are doing in the city, any violations and/or any enforcement issues. Councilor Eugene Weeks and Councilor Russ Stephenson spoke up supporting the changes and the six month report.

The strongest opponent to the food trucks was Councilor John Odom, speaking up with an apprehensive tone and claiming that, “I think we’re moving to fast.” He even brought a slight reaction from the crowd after ending his talk with, “I’m not looking forward to being like Durham I’ll tell you that.” (12:32 in the video above)

Outside of the obvious inappropriate and incorrect comment from Councilor Odom, (embarrassing) I’m glad we are moving forward on the food truck issue as we can now put this behind us. I’m still worried about the handling of this issue and some members of the council may not be ready when true innovative ideas present themselves in Raleigh. Will Raleigh welcome innovation or strangle it with restrictions? This topic may be looked at further in a future blog post.

Big Support For Food Trucks In Raleigh By Area Residents

I have a new blog post up on the Raleigh Downtown Living Advocates’ (DLA) blog. The group has polled it’s membership, mostly residents of downtown Raleigh, and there is strong support for having food trucks here.

Strong Support For Food Trucks By DLA Membership via

The attempts of this is to provide hard data to the city council that people support food trucks. Participants in the poll are registered members of the DLA.

The next move on the food truck issue could come on Tuesday, August 30th as the Law and Public Safety Committee has to come up with a recommendation to make for the city council. The committee is made of city councilors so e-mail them your thoughts on this matter so we can move forward.

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.

Municipography, Food Trucks Debate Continues, Rezoning for Raleigh City Farm

Food Trucks

The food truck controversy continues with the Raleigh City Council passing the hot potato to the Law and Public Safety Committee for review. That committee’s next meeting is next week and their recommendation should go back to the city council for their meeting on August 2nd.

I felt like the tone of the meeting on this topic continues to be that of concern and fear. With the opportunity to create restrictions on this “nuisance”, the city council is clamping down on the food trucks without really thinking through it all.

The Law and Public Safety Committee is chaired by Mary-Ann Baldwin and also includes Councilors John Odom and Eugene Weeks. E-mail them your thoughts on the food trucks.


Raleigh City Farm Rezoning

This rezoning request is for a property on East Franklin Street, here. Basically, it’s zoned for a shopping center and the rezoning is to remove any use of agricultural purposes on it. This is where the non-profit Raleigh City Farm wants to set up and the community seems to greatly support it.

The suggestion moves to the planning commission for review.

Municipography: Moore Square, Parking and Food Trucks

Municipography is a summary of current issues going through the Raleigh City Council and other municipal departments in the city. The point is to try to deliver any video, photos, and text associated with the discussions happening at City Hall or elsewhere. Since this is a downtown Raleigh blog, the focus is on the center of the city.

Moore Square Redesign

The Moore Square Draft Master Plan was presented to the Parks, Recreation and Greenway Advisory Board (PRGAB) on February 17, 2011, at which time the PRGAB heard public comment and asked questions of the consultant and staff. On March 17, 2011, the PRGAB continued discussion of the Draft Master Plan and voted unanimously to recommend the Draft Master Plan for Moore Square to City Council for approval as presented with the recommendation that the PRGAB have the opportunity to review and comment at the 30% Schematic Design phase. The motion includes keeping the restroom and café kiosk in the master plan although they have been objected to by the State of North Carolina Department of Administration which owns the property.

At the April 19, City Council meeting, Christopher Counts Studio and City staff will present the following information:

  • Summary of the Master Plan Process
  • Moore Square Draft Master Plan

Adopt the Moore Square Draft Master Plan as presented, with the recommendation that the PRGAB have the opportunity to review and comment at the 30% Schematic Design phase as recommended by the Parks, Recreation and Greenway Advisory Board.

Parking Management

The current parking management fund is in the red. For some background, jump to the last Municipography post on April 6, 2011.

The Committee recommends removing the stipulation in the City’s booting ordinance that requires that a bootable vehicle must be found in contravention of a parking ordinance before it can be booted.

The Committee further recommends adding a tax intercept amendment to our current Parking Management Service contract to collect delinquent fines for anything $50 and over on tax refunds.

The Committee further recommends that the City seek authority for DMV holds on delinquent citations.

The Committee is holding the item to receive a report from Downtown Raleigh Alliance relative to advertising and increasing revenue in our parking fund by not charging fees for evening and weekend parking in the City decks.

Food Trucks

TC-5-11 Food Trucks. Amends the Zoning Code to permit ‘Food Trucks’ to locate on commercially-developed properties subject to specific conditions.

Issue moves to planning commission to be discussed and make a recommendation to the city council within 30-45 days.

Suds and Speculation: Food Trucks In Downtown Raleigh

Suds and Speculation posts are ideas I come up with, usually while drinking and socializing with friends or people I meet. The posts also use real data leading to some idea, or dream, that we can speculate on for downtown Raleigh.

Quiet for now, but not gone yet, this food truck debate is a new puzzle for the city to figure out. For those needing to catch up, this article at the Raleigh Public Record is required reading.

I lean toward siding with the food trucks in this debate but want to see a smart plan come from the city to regulate this new industry. I strongly disagree that brick and mortar restaurants need to be protected by the city, an argument that restaurant owners make quite often. Mike Stenke, referenced in the article, makes a point about only competing with fast food chains and not the larger restaurants. It’s still a tough situation to figure out.

Why Food Trucks Do Not Compete With B&M Restaurants

To me, the main difference between the restaurants in the downtown buildings and the delicious food trucks is the experience you get from going to them. They differ completely and maybe at first you will be intrigued to get a burger or some Korean tacos from a truck but after a few tries, the curiosity is over and it’s the experience you seek.

Let’s list out some differences:

  • Hours: Typically trucks hold way less hours than most restaurants and since they move around, tracking them down is a hurdle you have to deal with.
  • Weather: I haven’t seen a single restaurant in the Triangle that is all outdoor seating so it’s safe to say that restaurants offer shelter from the elements while food trucks do not; order to-go only.
  • Atmosphere: If the weather is nice, some decide to eat near a truck and just make do with the space around the truck. Others prefer a seat and a table that a restaurant can provide every day they are open.

This completely to-go experience, or maybe ‘service,’ is what the food trucks are bringing. Plus, who’s stopping a restaurant from having to-go orders and still beating them out with hours, weather, and space while you wait?

The argument that food trucks compete with fast food restaurants makes more sense when you think of it this way. Both have low prices. Both offer little or no atmosphere. Weather, well, you got me there but you can call in your order at a food truck. Does McDonald’s do that?

Why Food Trucks Should Be Allowed In Downtown

Someone, somewhere, said that competition is a good thing. To raise the bar on food in downtown Raleigh, competition between businesses should be fierce and feisty. Established restaurants will gain their following and always be in business but newcomers need to prove they are worth something by bringing something exciting to the table. Allowing the food trucks into downtown just keeps stirring the pot and making things hotter. (and that’s a good thing)

Restaurants close all the time and owners claiming that the city needs to protect them from the food trucks are just plain wrong. Let’s flip the perspective. If these businesses were protected by the city, are they going to guarantee jobs and tax revenue for X amount of years in return? No. If the business isn’t doing well, it’ll shut down, even with the city’s “protection.” This is a bad deal, and that is not how things work around here.

I feel it’s in the interest of boosters to get food trucks to serve the downtown sidewalks. Food trucks will be an added amenity that we don’t have right now, expanding our variety of offerings. It may not sound like much but if successful, downtown Raleigh will now serve another market and be at the, somewhat, beginning of an emerging new industry.

Variety keeps you competitive. And you never know. Some of these guys in the trucks might open restaurants near their customers one day….in downtown Raleigh!

Why Food Trucks Should Not Be Allowed

But with the Pros comes the Cons and I have a couple points I’d like to make against having food trucks in downtown.

There is a certain feeling, call it experience, with being downtown. I’m talking about the outdoor urban experiences: walking down the sidewalks, drinking outside, people watching, things like that. In a worst case scenario, if food trucks were allowed to set up next to any curb, my hesitation to support them in downtown comes from a fear of ruining that experience.

With hundreds of people walking along the sidewalks, sometimes thousands during busy weekend events, it is in the owner’s interest to move where the people are. Who would stop a food truck from parking in a “good spot” early to rake in business from the nightlife or event crowds that will come a few hours later?

So, in this worst case scenario, food trucks sitting in parallel parking spots hurt the downtown experience. They take away parking, lowering turnover. The large trucks cramp the limited space we already have. Some have generators to power the kitchen – you think that will be pleasant to stand or sit near?

So I feel regulation is needed because if successful, who’s to say the food trucks won’t act predatory and just follow the crowds around like spam to an inbox?

A Difficult Plan

Figuring out how to make this work will not be easy and I’d be interested to hear some good ideas.

A quick way to implement something could be to allow owners of surface parking lots a permit to allow a food truck to set up on their lot. This doesn’t disrupt the parallel parking spots in downtown and places the trucks on property managed by a private owner.

Another solution I’m sort of wrestling with in my head is an idea to implement ‘Flex’ parking spaces in certain curbside spots around downtown. Just like the truck delivery spaces work today, these spaces could be for deliveries and for food trucks to set up. Likely spots would be around Nash and Moore Square, the state government complex, and the museums.

I support these food truck businesses in downtown Raleigh and want to see it happen in a smart way that regulates this industry just as fairly as everyone else and also encourages it to grow.